Washington House Bill 1747: “Keeping Families Together” would encourage guardianships over termination of parental rights when possible. Black and Brown families are especially vulnerable — in Washington, Indigenous children are 2.7 times more likely and Black children are 2.4 times more likely than white children to experience the termination of both parents’ rights. This bill would help to reduce racial bias and inequities in the child welfare system.
Jamerika Haynes-Lewis who wrote an op-ed, LINK>HB 1747 Offers a Pathway to Keeping Families Together, for the South Seattle Emerald a year ago in January 2022 write – I think of my own experience as a foster child in the system. My world completely changed at 5 when I stepped into my first foster home. Though I had relatives and other people that could have served as guardians, this option was not considered. Instead, adoption was the only choice. This event led me to moving from the Eastside of Tacoma to becoming one of few Black children in Poulsbo, Washington. Away from my family and community connections, I suffered immensely from racism and an identity crisis. And I had to experience this alone, on my own.
I am unable to determine the current status of HB 1747’s effort. I did also find Washington House Bill 1295 at The Imprint LINK>Hidden Foster Care, which would guarantee legal counsel for hundreds of parents ensnared in “hidden foster care” — informal placements arranged outside of court oversight. In a practice deployed to varying degrees nationwide, social workers with the state’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families offer parents the option of voluntarily handing over their children to friends or family. In exchange, parents can provide input on where they would like to have the children stay without the dictates of a formal foster care placement. Legislation introduced by Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D) would provide public defenders for those parents, who currently face separation from their children through contracts with the child welfare agency known as “voluntary placement agreements.” Such arrangements have been criticized by social work scholars and child welfare advocates, who say they can be coercive and strip parents of their due process rights.
“When you look at representation for such a critical decision in your life — whether or not to place your children in the care of the state — we just want to make sure that parents fully understand what they’re stepping into and what their options are,” Rep. Ortiz-Self said in an interview last week.
Optimistically, I believe that activists will continue making progress and will endeavor to remain informed as well as sharing what I learn here.