Roughly 100 turned out Friday to bring attention to a number of bills that aim to improve Washington’s foster care system.
OLYMPIA — Roughly 100 people braved chilly winds Friday afternoon to draw attention to legislation that aims to improve Washington’s foster care system.
“Reinventing foster care,” was the mantra of the bipartisan group of lawmakers, foster care parents and children who showed up in support.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, who is sponsoring two foster care bills, spoke at the rally and called the foster care system “in crisis” due to the lack of placement stability for foster children, the decrease in available foster care homes and the high turnover among social workers in the foster care system.
Kagi is sponsoring House Bill 1661, which would create a Department of Children, Youth and Family that would specially address issues related to the foster care system. Currently, the state’s foster care program is under the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which has a host of other responsibilities. Kagi’s bill has not yet received a House vote.
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Kagi also is sponsoring House Bill 2008, which directs the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to develop a tool to assess the needs of foster care children. The bill passed out of the House with bipartisan support and now heads to the Senate.
House Bill 1867, sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, extends foster care services to a larger number of young people between the ages of 18-21. Fey’s bill also passed the House with bipartisan support.
A bill by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, House Bill 1808, mandates that DSHS provides support for foster care youth attempting to get a driver’s license and reimburse them for all associated fees and driving courses. Clibborn’s bill passed the House with bipartisan support.
Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, is also sponsoring foster care legislation. Senn’s bill, House Bill 1624, would allow families who have received child-welfare services, child protective services, or a family-assessment response in the previous six months to qualify for the Working Connections Child Care program. Senn’s bill has passed the House with bipartisan support.
The only related Senate bill, SB 5241, is sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and would allow school districts to waive courses and give partial credit to students who have withdrawn from school due to homelessness or who change school districts after being moved to a different foster parent. SB 5241 passed the Senate and now heads to the House.
Some Republicans also attended the rally and called for the foster care system to change. Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, called Washington’s foster care system “broken.”
Dent, along with Reps. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, and Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, shared their experiences of being foster care parents and called on fellow lawmakers to support proposed changes.