SINCE 2004, Washington’s foster-care system has been under the thumb of a legally binding reform plan, and accompanying oversight. The state now seeks to escape this vital scrutiny without finishing the job, even as it asks for the public to trust its commitment.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration is making a mistake. Finish the job.
The oversight comes via the so-called Braam settlement, which originated as a lawsuit filed in the name of Jessica Braam, who pinballed between 34 foster homes by the age of 12. Thirteen other kids who suffered under a mismanaged foster-care system stood with her, and convinced a Whatcom County jury that the state was failing.
The state Department of Social and Health Services resisted until 2008, but eventually committed itself to common-sense reforms. Regarding the Legislature kicking in extra funding for this fundamental duty: If the state is going to become an abused or neglected child’s legal parent, it owes that kid the best shot possible.
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The Braam settlement got results. Foster children do not bounce among homes nearly as much, and often are reunited with siblings and relatives. They have better health care and educational plans.
The job is not done, even though the settlement expired in December. In Whatcom County Superior Court on Monday, attorneys for foster children, led by Columbia Legal Services, will seek to extend the settlement because DSHS has failed to achieve nine of 21 agreed-upon reforms. DSHSopposes the extension.
The unfinished work goes to the heart of the reform effort. Caseloads are still above 18 children per worker, a widely accepted standard. Too few foster children are visited monthly by case workers.
Most disturbingly, DSHS has made the least progress on preventing foster kids from running away — and locating them. On average, runaways remain missing for more than six weeks.
That puts them at extraordinary risk of sexual exploitation. Based on national data, advocates believe that about half of the estimated 500 of the minors working daily in King County’s commercial sex trade are foster kids. No parent should sleep knowing their children are being pimped out.
The Inslee administration should change its legal strategy and welcome an extension of the Braam settlement. A binding settlement sharply focused DSHS on the crucial work of improving foster care, and would continue to do so.
An extension would also remind the Legislature — now focused on education funding — that it cannot shortchange care for its own wards.
Finish the work begun by the Braam settlement.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).
This editorial, originally published July 19, 2014 at 4:05 p.m., was corrected on Sept. 3, 2014 at 5:03 p.m. The earlier version misstated that about 500 minors working daily in King County’s commercial sex trade had run away from foster or group homes. Based on national data, advocates believe that about half of the estimated 500 of the minors working daily in the county’s commercial sex trade ran away from foster homes or group homes.