Governor Signs Two Bills Protecting At-risk Children

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Governor Jay Inslee today signed two bills to better protect at-risk children in Washington. The first creates a pilot program allowing for abused and neglected children to better navigate the court system. The other creates a cabinet level agency to better coordinate services for children and families in the state. 

Senate Bill (SB) 5890 improves the state's foster system for both foster children and foster parents and funds a research project targeted at providing legal representation for children and youth in foster care.

"For children and youth in foster care, having an attorney means a greater chance to stay with family members, to spend less time in foster care, and to avoid homelessness," said Hillary Madsen, staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services. "This study will provide critical information for lawmakers about the importance of attorneys in reducing system-wide inefficiencies and expenses." 

SB 5890 will help study and compare the outcomes for foster children who receive legal assistance with those who do not. The bill was sponsored by Senators Steve O'Ban, John Braun, and Christine Rolfes, and the counsel provision in the bill was championed by Representative Noel Frame. 

House Bill (HB) 1661 creates the Department of Children, Youth and Families. This cabinet level agency will help align state services for Washington's children, to better provide children and their families the housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, academic and other services they need. The bill stemmed from the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families, co-chaired by Representative Ruth Kagi and Judge Anne Levinson (Ret.).

During the legislative session, Columbia Legal Services called for the legislature to ensure that race equity be a guiding principle in the creation of the new department, and that the state not only apply race equity principles by looking at outcomes, but also at how children and families are identified, screened, and provided services as well.

"We applaud the creation of this new department, which will help to improve the way the state provides services to children," said Mary Van Cleve, staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services. "With its creation, we now have the opportunity to look critically at how race comes into play in our screening systems, kinship care supports, youth arrest and diversion programs, and availability of racially and culturally appropriate in-home services, to name a few."

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