Republicans and Democrats in Olympia insist they want to shore up the state’s failing foster care system, but major reforms could falter as they head into a special legislative session to hammer out budget and policy proposals that remain miles apart.
A recent report by the Children’s Administration shows how many of the highest-needs foster children in its custody are falling through the cracks. This “placement crisis,” as agency leaders and lawmakers have taken to calling it, has largely been the result of insufficient and unpredictable state budgets. A bill that would have improved funding for the state’s foster care system has died in the Senate.
Months of reporting by InvestigateWest shed light on a foster care system under strain and in disarray. Distributed via our partners KCTS 9 and Crosscut, as well as on our own website, reporters Susanna Ray and Allegra Abramo produced stories about social worker churn, systemic obstacles to academic success and emotional stability for foster kids, and the foster parent exodus — but with a special focus on solutions. We plan to follow these issues in the legislature and in the coming years.
InvestigateWest starts conversations that are urgently needed for the betterment of our society. In this Seattle Channel recording of the Town Hall event spurred by InvestigateWest’s reporting, 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 discuss paths forward with moderator and Town Hall Program Director Katy Sewall.
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.
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.”
Washington’s shortage of foster parents to care for abused and neglected kids is so overburdened that kids who are shuffled among hotels and emergency placements often miss school, further compromising their chances to become successful adults.
End of the Line is a ongoing series by InvestigateWest asking what happens when teens get too old for foster care in Washington State. Our latest story, a multimedia collaboration with KUOW, looks at why getting teens enrolled in Washington’s new extended foster care program can be tricky.