Momentum Builds for Child Priorities

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Jon Brumbach
Member of the Board
Children’s Campaign Fund

This year has presented an ambitious agenda for child welfare system reform. Many of the priorities of Children’s Campaign Fund have made strong progress halfway through the 60-day session, while some suffer from inaction by our elected leaders.

Legal Representation for Foster Youth – SB 6126

While the House version of the bill failed to make it out of the Appropriations Committee, SB 6126 was approved by a unanimous vote of the Senate this week. According to First Star, a Washington D.C. based child advocacy research group, Washington ranks among the worst in the nation in appointing attorneys for youth in foster care. Read the First Star report “A Child’s Right to Counsel, 3rd Edition” here (opens a new window).

SB 6126 supports youth in foster care whose parents’ rights have been terminated. Studies show that youth in foster care who are appointed attorneys achieve permanency more quickly. With improved outcomes for the children and reduced costs for the state this is good news all around. The bill is now headed to the House Judiciary Committee where it awaits a public hearing.

Extended Foster Care – SB 6101 and HB 2335

Washington state has been working towards allowing youth to remain in foster care until age 21 since 2006. This year legislation that would finish the job stalled due to inaction by the legislature’s fiscal committees (the Senate’s Ways and Means and Appropriations in the House). This legislation would have added the two final categories of youth to the Extended Foster Care program—those working 80 hours per month or more and those with documented medical conditions. This is an unfortunate setback, but hope still remains that our legislative leaders will keep this bill alive by addressing it in the final budget.

Youth Opportunities Act – HB 1651

Washington state is one of the only states in the nation that not only allows juvenile criminal records to be public, but actively sells them to credit bureaus and other interested companies. This keeps many youth from obtaining housing or pursuing employment or education. HB 1651 would change that, allowing juvenile court records for certain offenses to be made confidential at age 18. It was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.

These priorities will require significant efforts to make it through the legislature this session. Check back here for regular updates on what our elected leaders are doing (or not doing) to support Washington children.