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AGO 1959 No. 68 - September 21, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS - STATE - DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE - AUTHORITY TO PLACE CHILDREN FOR ADOPTION OR TO ACCEPT CUSTODY OF DEPENDENT OR DELINQUENT CHILDREN.

The Department of Public Assistance has no authority to place children for adoption but it has authority to accept the custody of dependent children as that term is defined in chapter 74.12 RCW.

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                                                              September 21, 1959

Honorable Paul Klasen, Jr.
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington                                                                                           Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 68

Dear Sir:

            In a letter previously acknowledged, you requested the opinion of this office concerning the following questions:

            "(1) Does the Department of Public Assistance have the authority to place children for adoption?

            "(2) Does the Department of Public Assistance have the authority to accept the custody of dependent or delinquent children?"

            We answer your first question in the negative.  The second question is answered in the negative as qualified in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            (1) The Juvenile Court Law (Title 13 RCW) is the basis of a petition to remove children from the custody of parents and to place such children either on a temporary or permanent basis with other than a parent.

            The particular section dealing with the care of a dependent or delinquent child and the granting of authority to permit the adoption of such child is RCW 13.04.110.  This section provides as follows:

            "In any case where the court shall award a child to the care of anyassociation or individual, the child shall, unless otherwise ordered, become  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] a ward and be subject to the guardianship of theassociation or individual to whose care it is committed; such association shall have authority, with the assent of the court, to place such child in a family home, either temporarily or for adoption. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            The supreme court in the case of In re Jones, 41 Wn. (2d) 764, 252 P. (2d) 284, found that the county welfare department, acting as agent for the state department of social security, (presently the department of public assistance) was not an "association" within the meaning of RCW 13.04.110.  The court concluded that the juvenile court could not commit a delinquent or dependent child to a county welfare department.  In theJones, case, supra, the superior court of Skagit county had awarded the child to the Lutheran Children's Home and the Lutheran Children's Home had asked to be relieved of the care.  As the result of such request, the court on July 28, 1952, entered an order placing the two minor children under the care and custody of the Skagit county welfare department, subject to the supervision of the probation officer of the court.  The county welfare department was authorized to supervise the welfare of the children and to place them in approved foster homes or institutions.  The order was objected to on several grounds, one being that the law does not contemplate the placing of dependent children under the care and custody of a county welfare department.

            In discussing this question, the court stated as follows:

            "Under the act relating to aid for dependent children, a county welfare department, acting as agent of the state department of social security, has authority to accept the custody and provide for the care of children under certain circumstances.  See RCW 74.12.080 and 74.12.130 (Rem. Rev. State. (Sup.), § 9992-112, part, and Rem. Supp. 1947, § 9992-106, respectively).  But the 'delinquent and dependent children' with whom we are here concerned are not those referred to in the above act.  Rather they are those referred to in the juvenile court act.  Hence we must look to the latter act to determine the authority of the juvenile court to commit delinquent and dependent children."  (p. 769)

            The court then enumerated the specific situations set forth in the juvenile court act and then stated as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "A county welfare department is not a probation officer, institution, association, citizen, or school, as those terms are used in the juvenile court act.  It follows that the juvenile court may not commit a delinquent or dependent child to a county welfare department.  The order under review should therefore be modified to withdraw relator's children from the care and custody of the welfare department and commit them to the care, guardianship, or custody of a person or organization of the kind described in the statutes referred to above."  (p. 770)

            Thus the juvenile court act does not give the department of public assistance, acting through a county welfare department, the authority to accept custody of dependent or delinquent children and to place such children out for adoption.  Further, a review of Title 74 RCW, which contains the public assistance statutes of the state, fails to reveal any statutory provision authorizing the department to place children for adoption.  In the absence of such statutory authority we conclude that the department of public assistance, acting through the county welfare departments, cannot place children for adoption.

            (2) Public assistance laws, however, give the department of public assistance the right to accept for a limited purpose the custody of "dependent children" as this term is defined in chapter 74.12 RCW.

            RCW 74.12.130 provides in part that the department shall:

            "(2) Accept custody of children and provide for the care of children in need of protective services, directly or through its agents, following in general, the policy of using properly approved private agency services for the actual care and supervision of such children insofar as they are available, paying for care of such dependent children as are accepted by the department as eligible for support at a reasonable rate established by the department; . . ."

            It is to be noted that the foregoing language limits the authority of the department to those "in need of protective services."

            It is a fundamental rule of statutory construction that all statutes dealing with the same subject matter will be construed together so as to maintain the integrity of both statutes whenever possible.  Buell v. McGee, 9 Wn. (2d) 84, 113 P. (2d) 522.  Thus, the department of public assistance  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] and the county welfare departments are authorized under RCW 74.12.130,supra, to accept custody of dependent children who are in need of "protective services."  However, the primary function of the department and the county welfare department is to provide financial support and services to dependent children, preferably through the use of private agencies.

            In conclusion, it is the opinion of this office that the department of public assistance has no authority to accept custody of dependent and delinquent children under Title 13 RCW, the juvenile court act, but may accept custody of dependent children under the provisions of RCW 74.12.130.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

FRED C. DORSEY
Assistant Attorney General

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