Judge Rules Washington State Must Reform the Foster Care System

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bellingham, WA - This week, Judge Charles Snyder of the Whatcom County Superior Court ruled that the State of Washington must finish the job of reforming the foster care system, as it promised to do in a 2011 settlement agreement in Braam v. State. Noting that it would be an "injustice" to the young people protected by the reforms, the Court denied the State's request to be excused from compliance with two remaining reforms that address youth missing from foster care.

"Many youth who run from care lack a connection to their placement, and may run to check up on younger siblings or to see parents or other relatives," said Mary Van Cleve of Columbia Legal Services who argued on behalf the foster children. Other youth impacted by today's ruling are those at high risk for running, including those in group homes, youth who have been sexually trafficked, youth suffering from mental health disabilities or drug addiction, and LGBTQ youth who may be ostracized by their caregivers.

"It's a question of equity. This work is not done until we address the most vulnerable of the already highly vulnerable population of foster youth," said Bill Grimm of the National Center for Youth Law, co-counsel on the case.

The Braam case is a class action started in 1998 on behalf of the State's foster children. A Revised Settlement Agreement, entered by the Court in 2012, set forth 21 agreed-to reforms that would improve the conditions of care for the states foster children. Some of the reforms already met include sibling visits, monthly health and safety visits for children, mental health and health screening, and reducing the number of times foster children change placements while in care. The State sought to revise the two reforms impacting youth missing from care, and then have the court find them in compliance with the revised measures. After denying the State's motion, the court asked that the State and the attorneys for the foster children meet to further evaluate data and determine whether the reforms could be improved upon.

"The Court affirmed today that the clear promises made to foster children to improve care must be kept," said Van Cleve. "These reforms reflect clear results that the State agreed to meet, and we are glad that the Court is requiring the State to continue to focus on them. As a result of today's ruling, the State will need to address the needs of this high-risk group of children"