Washington State

Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS)


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Provides DSHS policies, procedures, FAQ, parent’s guide, and more.

Overview of professionals designated “mandated reporters” of child abuse and neglect.


Statutes and Regulations

Child Abuse and Neglect Investigations

Included in Washington’s overall definition of child abuse or neglect is “negligent treatment or maltreatment,” which means any act, failure to act, or pattern of behavior by a child’s caretaker that is “of such magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to a child’s health, welfare, or safety.”  The definition states that great weight is given to evidence of a parent’s substance abuse as a contributing factor in considering whether the parent’s conduct creates a “clear and present danger.”

Washington’s mandated reporting law requires designated types of professionals to file a report of child abuse or neglect with DSHS when they have “reasonable cause to believe” that a child has suffered abuse or neglect.

When it receives a report of child abuse or neglect, DSHS employs an initial risk assessment to determine which reports to accept, and prioritizes them by level of risk and time necessary for response.  Low or moderate risk cases are assigned to the “family assessment” track, which is intended to “collaborate” with the family to identify their strengths, and offer voluntary services.  More serious cases are assigned to the full investigation track, depending on a variety of factors, including the nature of the allegations and any prior CPS involvement.  Officially, there is no finding of abuse or neglect if only a family assessment is done, but parents who refuse a family assessment are always investigated, provided that the caseworker has been able to identify any risk or safety factors that would warrant an investigation.  DSHS is permitted to interview a child outside his or her parent’s presence without parental consent or notification.

When investigating any report of child abuse or neglect, the caseworker making contact with the child’s parent or guardian must determine whether it is “probable that the use of alcohol or substance is a contributing factor” to the alleged abuse or neglect.  If the caseworker believes that it was, DSHS may order the parent or guardian to under go a “comprehensive chemical dependency evaluation” by an approved physician during the investigation.

Once DSHS has completed the investigation and found that a report of child abuse or neglect is substantiated, it may offer “services” to the parent, which may include substance abuse treatment.  If the parent then fails to accept or obtain the services, DSHS is permitted to file a dependency petition in a juvenile court.  This law again states that “great weight” shall be given to “evidence of a parent’s substance abuse as a contributing factor” to the abuse or neglect, in considering whether a dependency petition should be filed.


Administrative Appeals and Records

DSHS maintains records of all investigations as well as a log of reports that it chooses not to investigate.  The law provides that DSHS “shall conduct timely and periodic reviews of all founded [substantiated] cases of abuse and neglect.”  Records concerning a report with allegations that are ultimately deemed untrue, or inconclusive, may be kept for up to six years, or longer if subsequent reports are filed on the same family.  DSHS may choose to keep records concerning substantiated reports of child abuse or neglect.

When a finding of child abuse or neglect is substantiated by DSHS, the parent or caretaker who allegedly committed the maltreatment has the right to request, in writing, a review of his or her case.  The parent must make this request within 30 days of being notified of the finding.  DSHS then has 30 days to review the finding in accordance with its internal review procedures (see Wash. Admin. Code § 388-15, Part B).  If DSHS does not amend the finding, the parent may then seek an administrative hearing under the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.  Parents who do not file the initial request within 30 days are not eligible for review of any kind.


Other Provisions

Requires a law enforcement officer to “promptly notify child protective services whenever a child is present in a vehicle being driven by his or her parent, guardian, or legal custodian and that person is being arrested for a drug or alcohol-related driving offense,” when the child is under age 13.


Juvenile Court Proceedings

A finding that a child has been abused or neglected can bring that child into the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and DSHS will often follow an administrative finding with a dependency petition based on that finding.  Dependency jurisdiction means that the juvenile court issue orders to decide matters of the child’s care and custody.

When DCFS files a petition in juvenile court, the court holds a fact-finding hearing to decide whether the child meets the legal definition of “dependency.”  An administrative finding of child abuse or neglect is one way to show that the child is “dependent” and that the juvenile court has jurisdiction.  At the fact-finding hearing, a parent or guardian has the right to be represented by a lawyer, and a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the interests of the child.  DSHS must prove its case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that it is more likely than not that the child meets the definition of a dependent child.  Once the juvenile court decides to enter a dependency order, a legal process begins that can lead to the child being placed outside the home, and eventually to termination of parental rights.


State Marijuana Laws



Approved by popular vote on November 6, 2012, I-502 will take effect over the course of a year starting on its effective date.  Adults over 21 in Washington state are allowed to make retail purchases and possess up to an ounce of cannabis, which will be regulated and taxed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.  The packaging and labeling regulations adopted in implementation of I-502 require that marijuana sold at retail locations be labeled with the warning, “Should not be used by women that are pregnant or breast feeding.”  There is no provision in the initiative or in the adopted rules to protect pregnant women, parents, or legal guardians from facing CPS actions due to legal cannabis use.

Government website keeping Washington state citizens updated on the progression of I-502 implementation.  This includes several FAQs, a timeline, and program rules.


Medical Marijuana

Washington’s original medical marijuana legislation did not contain specific provisions to protect parents, pregnant women, or legal guardians, though it did provide immunity from criminal prosecution.

In 2011, this section of the medical cannabis law was amended to create a blanket protection for qualifying patients and their caregivers against any civil (non-criminal) consequences for “possession, manufacture, or delivery,” or for “possession with intent to manufacture or deliver” cannabis, as long as they are in compliance with state law.  Civil consequences include any action taken by DCFS, and this provision is still valid as of October 2013.

Along with the blanket civil protections described above, a provision was added in 2011 to specifically protect parents, legal guardians, and non-custodial parents.  “A qualifying patient or designated provider may not have his or her parental rights or residential time with a child restricted solely due to his or her medical use of cannabis in compliance with the terms of this chapter,” unless there is evidence that the use of cannabis has so impaired the person’s functioning that they are no longer able to perform their parenting duties.  This means that DSHS may investigate parenting adults who are qualifying patients or designated caregivers in order to determine whether such use impairs their parenting skills;  however, an allegation of abuse or neglect should not be substantiated on the basis of state-legal medical marijuana use alone.

Government website with more information on the program, including a FAQ.

All Washington State Laws and Penalties (NORML)


Case Law

In re Marriage of Wieldraayer, 147 Wash. App. 1048 (Wash. Ct. App. 2008).  This unpublished case from the Court of Appeals of Washington involved a custody dispute in which mother alleged that father’s use of marijuana was “ongoing and rampant,” requiring supervised visitation.  The trial court entered an order granting primary custody to mother, and requiring father’s visits to be monitored due to his medical marijuana use.  Its order also specified the steps that father would have to take to obtain unsupervised visits: completely abstain from use of marijuana and undergo urinalysis until testing clean for six months.  Father appealed the order, arguing that his right to parenting time could not be restricted, under Wash. Rev. Code § 69.51A.040(2) (see above).  The court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s order: “The dangers inherent in the use of marijuana do not turn on whether or not the use is sanctioned by the State. Merely because [father] is entitled to use marijuana to improve his medical condition under [§ 69.51A.040(2)] does not mean that such use is not detrimental to his young daughters. In the family law setting, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance.”  The court emphasized: “Just because [father’s] use of marijuana was legally prescribed does not mean that he is entitled as a matter of right to unsupervised visits with his children. [Father] had a history of using marijuana for its intoxicating effects long before he became a medical marijuana user. And while we can certainly envision circumstances under which the child of a medical marijuana user suffers no ill effects from the drug usage, such is not the case here. Evidence was presented at trial that [father] allowed his elder daughter, age four, to sniff the glass while he was smoking marijuana. On another occasion, [father] stated that he was picking up the children after smoking more marijuana. On yet another occasion, [father] boasted that once he passed the UA drug test he could do whatever he wanted. … The record shows that [father] continued to use marijuana around his children even after he promised to quit. Given the children’s tender age, [father’s] predilection to use marijuana for its intoxicating effects, and the other evidence presented, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in requiring that [father’s] visits with his children be supervised until certain conditions were met.”

Last updated: August 18, 2014 at 18:15 pm

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