The number of times that state child-welfare workers housed foster children overnight in government offices has exploded, from six times in the last reporting period to 284. Meanwhile, the state hit a new record for combined hotel and office stays by foster kids, many of them with extreme behaviors.
With COVID-19 spreading into Washington’s system of foster care group homes, operators of the facilities say they are in a precarious position and fear “retaliation” by state child-welfare officials who ended state funding to a home that turned away foster youth sickened by the coronavirus.
Young adults in the foster care system, who are disproportionately people of color, were already at risk for a litany of serious problems even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, as many struggle to pay for rent and groceries, advocates are calling for Washington state to stop kicking young people out of Extended Foster Care when they turn 21. In response, the state says it is working on a new housing stability program. In the meantime, some young adults are seeking help from charitable groups.
The coronavirus pandemic has translated into severe unhappiness for parents of children taken into Washington State’s foster-care system who no longer are able in most cases to have in-person contact with their children. Court rulings from around the state are in conflict, and parents who lost their kids to the foster care system — most because they were simply too poor to adequately care for them — are bringing legal challenges to Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency stay-at-home proclamation’s effect on their ability to have regular in-person visits.
With Washington forcing a record number of traumatized foster youth into overnight hotel stays that further destabilize them — at a tremendous cost to taxpayers — lawmakers in Olympia have sent the governor a budget that seems unlikely to solve the problem. Legislators last week approved nearly $16 million in new funding to try to stem the hotel-overnight crisis. The new money has the potential to restore 26 spots for foster youth lost earlier this year at one Seattle facility, Ryther, and create perhaps more than 70 new ones. Yet, it might not be enough to fix the system: The department racked up more than 1,500 hotel overnights for almost 300 foster children in the most recent year measured, ending in August 2019. Ryther, a children’s mental-health agency, offers an example of how lawmakers’ efforts may come up short.
Record numbers of foster children are sleeping in hotels and state offices as Washington State struggles to find beds for youth with mental health and behavioral challenges. Having previously sent some of the hardest-to-place foster youths to out-of-state homes, the state is now working to bring them back, but it’s facing a lack of qualified in-state facilities in part due to low payment rates by the state.
In addition to the shortage of foster homes in Washington state, foster parents often cite retaliation by state case workers as a major issue. Widespread enough to be acknowledged by state child-welfare officials, these punitive measures can involve threats to remove foster children or reduce monthly state support payments. This is creating a culture of fear among foster parents and further exacerbate the foster care crisis in Washington state.
Inmates at Washington’s Monroe Correctional Complex who are alumni of the foster-care system convened a conference that brought together officials of the Department of Children, Youth and Families, Treehouse, a retired King County Juvenile Court Judge and members of the community to talk about ending the foster-care-to-prison pipeline.