Foster Care: A System in Crisis

Month’s of reporting on Washington State’s foster care program by InvestigateWest has shed light on a system under strain and in disarray; there is a major problem in Washington State’s foster care system. What actions should we take to fix the problem? Where should the conversation start? Take a listen as panelists Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell, Representative Ruth Kagi (D-Seattle), former Department of Social and Health Services employee Dee Wilson, advocacy lead and Washington State Parent Ally Committee/Children’s Home Society of Washington staffer Alise Hegle, and Foster Parents Association of Washington State Executive Director Mike Canfield chat with moderator and Town Hall Program Director Katy Sewall. Plus, we hear about promising fixes and solutions that are being considered to redress them. 

Despite having a master’s degree and a supervisory job with Washington state’s Children’s Administration, social worker Tanya Copenhaver struggled to make ends meet for her daughter Cassidy. She ultimately left the state agency for a hospital job – and increased her salary 30 percent.

Social worker churn undercuts Washington’s foster care system

Tanya Copenhaver followed in her father’s and grandmother’s footsteps by becoming a social worker for Washington state’s Children’s Administration, a difficult but fulfilling calling she never expected to give up. During 15 years of working in the foster care system, on a job considered among the hardest in the state, she worked her way up to supervisor. But even with a master’s degree and a management position, the single mom struggled to pay rent and daycare. She and her daughter ate at her mother’s house to save money. Last year, Copenhaver finally left the vocation she cherished to take a post at a Pierce County hospital – with a 30 percent pay raise.

For two years Karly Leib worked for a private agency that recruited foster parents. She reluctantly quit after getting worn down by the state foster system’s relentless struggles. “I thought, ‘How do I ask people to get involved in such a ridiculously broken system?’” she said.

Washington’s troubled foster care program struggles to keep foster parents

Over the course of four years, foster parent Veronica Moody of Kirkland took in babies and children with severe challenges, including drug exposure, extreme tantrums and nightmares, head-banging and third-degree burns. But that wasn’t the really hard part of the job, the part that drove away Moody and her husband Chris from accepting more kids. It was Washington state’s dysfunctional foster care system. “All the problems the state causes, due to lack of resources and lack of training, make our job as foster parents very difficult,” Moody said. “It burns you out.”

The Moodys’ tale is sadly familiar.

Kristin Heydel presents a workshop about Human Trafficking.

In Oregon, Gangs Take Over as Sex Trafficking Goes Offline

PORTLAND —This river city along Interstate 5 has long had a reputation as a hotspot for child sex trafficking, even after a 2010 report to Congress made it clear that Seattle and other American cities are just as bad and that sex with children is a burgeoning American pastime. It’s a sad truth many communities have yet to embrace. But consider the numbers:

Police say escort ads for young women are a good barometer of the size of a trafficking market in any town — women billed as young but legal who often turn out to be minors. The Portland metro area, population 2.3 million, saw 377 total listings for escorts in a recent week on the web site Backpage. Seattle, with a metro-area population of 3.5 million, had 523 — roughly the same rate per capita.

‘Prescription for Abuse’ Honored at Best of the West

Last February, Carol Smith’s report, “The Prescription Epidemic” revealed how aggressive marketing and sales of pharmaceuticals drove a culture of overprescription in Washington and created the spectacular run-up in the number of deaths from prescription overdoses.Today that story—and the documentary of the same name that we co-produced with KCTS—was recognized by Best of the West, a journalism contest for news outlets from Alaska to Texas. Here’s what the judge had to say:InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith and Stephanie Schendel and KCTS’ Ethan Morris take second for their collaboration in print and video of the prescription-drug epidemic in Washington. The investigation comes after the state’s enactment of a law that limits the doses doctors and others prescribers can give out. It is considered one of the strongest prescription drug laws in the United States.“InvestigateWest’s report on the prescription drug epidemic in Washington tackles a controversial topic – the unintended consequences of making pain medication available to those in need. Carol Smith and her colleagues revealed not just the personal cost of overdoses but also the hidden influence of drug companies on the guidelines for the use of painkillers. The research, the writing and the multimedia presentation offer readers creative, compelling and unforgettable work,” the judge wrote.Congratulations also to the staff of The Oregonian, who won top honors in the category for their reporting on the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System.