Housing abused and neglected children in Washington state is costing up to $600 a night in some cases, a clear indication that the state’s foster care system is dysfunctional, according to data obtained by InvestigateWest. The main reason is that there are far too few foster parents to handle the number of young people in the state care. With demand high, a small number of foster homes can reap huge financial benefits.
Foster kids and foster parents in Washington state have something to celebrate as state officials carry out legislative orders, backed with extra millions in funding, to overhaul the state’s beleaguered foster-care system
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.
Will abused and neglected children in Washington’s foster-care system be rescued by a $10 million reorganization of the state’s state’s system to care for foster children? Even if the Washington Legislature comes up with the $10 million, what will really change?
Foster youth in Washington state rally at the state capitol to demand the state Legislature better fund the foster-care system and make provisions to do more for foster youth who often become homeless when they “age out” of foster care.
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.
High turnover among unhappy foster parents is putting more stress on an already strained system and hindering the state’s ability to care for its most vulnerable children. Too often, the state’s program drives away its own foster parents.