Washington must step up and invest now to steer these vulnerable youths onto a path toward a better life.
If any people deserve the help of Washington state government, surely children who have no safe place to call home do.
Children in foster care face tremendous challenges to growing into successful adulthood. Foster families, nonprofit agencies and the entire foster system still lack the resources and guidance they need to help young people overcome their difficult situation and past trauma.
Nowhere is that more evident than in educational outcomes, which Ross Hunter, the Department of Children, Youth and Families secretary, calls “horrific.”
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The five-year high school graduation rate for foster children is less than 50 percent. That compares with a rate of more than 80 percent graduation for all children. The performance of former foster children is even worse in college, with less than 3 percent of foster kids earning a degree compared to a quarter of all young adults.
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Some nonprofit groups, such as Seattle-based Treehouse, work with foster children to improve their school performance. They have had success boosting graduation rates for almost 1,000 foster-care students, but there are more than 9,000 foster children in the state. Treehouse is lobbying state lawmakers for $4 million additional funding that would allow it to nearly double the number of kids served. It also wants $600,000 to support driver’s education for foster teens. Both are small asks for big benefits.
Lawmakers also should support other bills that would help foster kids. Senate Bill 5290 and House Bill 1434 would end the practice of locking up foster kids for noncriminal behavior like running away or skipping school. Those young people would be directed to help instead of jail.
Another bill, HB 1631, would provide helpful direction for DCYF, a department that was created in 2017. It would encourage better training and reduced workloads for caseworkers, among other things.
The public should not forget about the needs of foster kids in the crush of other priorities that impact more people’s lives directly. In some cases, the state is all these children have.
Washington must step up and invest now to steer those vulnerable youths onto a path toward a better life. Doing so will pay dividends in the future for the kids and for all of Washington.