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Director of Communications
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Plan Requires State To Make Substantial Improvements Over Next Five Years
The expert panel (www.braampanel.org) appointed to monitor the implementation of the Braam v. State of Washington settlement has released its long-awaited Implementation Plan for reforming Washington State's foster care system.
For detailed information about the plan, media coverage, and background information on the case, go to www.braamkids.org.
The plan's release follows a series of public forums during which foster parents, social services providers, mental health experts, child advocates, and others in the community submitted comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the plan.
"For thousands of foster children, this plan represents the opportunity for every foster child to spend his or her lifetime in a safe home and with a family, not in a string of temporary placements with strangers," said Casey Trupin of Seattle-based Columbia Legal Services, one of the attorneys for the Plaintiffs. "The panel worked diligently with the Department and with stakeholders to craft a reasonable but effective plan that, if followed, will ensure that foster children finally receive adequate services."
The Braam Panel was convened a year and a half ago as a result of the settlement in the Braam vs. State of Washington lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of thousands of foster children in the state of Washington who had been bounced from home to home by the foster care system, and focused on the multiple harms resulting from this constant instability. The case was settled in July 2004, after the Washington State Supreme Court held that foster children had significant constitutional rights that could not be disregarded, even due to lack of funding for key programs.
The plan requires changes in six key areas that affect children's lives in the foster care system: placement stability, mental health, foster parent training and information, unsafe or inappropriate placements, sibling separation, and services to adolescents. The plan sets out measurable outcomes and annual benchmarks in order to turn the promises of the settlement agreement into reality.
"When a system is this broken, it needs a bold, comprehensive fix," said Paola Maranan, Executive Director of the Children's Alliance. "Now is the time for everybody to get behind this plan and turn the system around. Kids have been waiting too long."
The Panel based much of its work on past studies, task forces, and Legislative priorities. The report notes that "To a significant extent, the Settlement directs the Department to perform activities required under Washington State law. Since 1987, 30 laws have been passed directing policies and procedures included in the Settlement."
There are dozens of required outcomes. Highlights from some of the areas include:
The Department must decrease the number of children in foster care who are repeatedly moved from placement to placement. In order to do this, the Department is required to increase the number of active foster homes recruited each year, better match children with placements, and increase foster parent support and satisfaction. By July of 2010, the Department must reduce the number of children experiencing three or more placements by 50 percent, recruit 50 percent more foster parents, and, on average, retain foster parents for 15 months longer.
Recognizing that many of the victims of abuse or neglect entering foster care have serious emotional and behavioral needs, the Department is required to see that children receive mental health assessments and services. Among other improvements, the Department must increase the number of children who have an initial physical and mental health screening within three days of their entry into foster care, decrease the number of children who have to switch mental health providers, and increase the number of children who actually receive appropriate and timely mental health services. For example, by July of 2007, the Department must ensure that 95 percent of foster children have their health care needs screened within 30 days of entering care, a long time goal of the Legislature. By July of 2007, the Department will also be required to ensure that 95 percent of foster children receive recommended services from qualified mental health care or substance abuse treatment providers within 30 days of entering foster care.
The Department must turn its attention to those children who runaway from care and treat those children with the same urgency that other missing children receive. The Department must do a better job serving adolescents, including reducing the number of students who change schools because of a foster care placement change, and increasing the number of students in care who are at the appropriate grade level. For example, by July 2010, the Department must increase the number of children receiving a high school diploma by 30 percent and must reduce the number of adolescents who run away from their placements by 80 percent.
Importantly, the plan also requires the Department to reduce the disproportionately negative outcomes experienced by youth of color in the foster care system.
The plan has great potential to serve as a model of reform for other states. If the Department implements this plan and the Governor and legislature ensure that the necessary resources and funding are available, the lives of Washington's foster children will drastically improve. As they approach adulthood, these youth will be better equipped to live independently.
"When the state intervenes and removes a child from the home, it makes a promise to take care of that child," stated Bill Grimm of the California-based National Center For Youth Law, which also represents the plaintiff children. "For too long, the state itself has been a neglectful parent - failing to help a child succeed in school, tolerating delays in obtaining treatment, and ignoring other needs that a caring parent would not allow. The state is required to be a better parent under this Plan."
Plaintiffs' attorneys have been and will continue to be involved. "We have been working on behalf of the children in foster care in the state of Washington for the last seven years, and we intend to see this through to ensure that this tremendous promise of reform is kept," stated Tim Farris, the attorney who originally brought the case. "We recognize that the biggest challenge is yet to come, and we look forward to joining with foster children and those who work on their behalf to bring about the reforms."
While all of the reforms in the plan are court-enforceable, plaintiffs' attorneys hope that this will not be necessary. "We believe that everybody will work to bring about these reforms," said Farris, "and that this issue will not have to return to court. But we will do what is necessary to fulfill the promises to the children."