Key Issues

How does the Graduation Success Program support youth in foster care?

Changes in home placement, school transitions and emotional upheaval cause youth to fall behind in school. Fewer than 50 percent of youth in foster care graduate from high school, and fewer than 3 percent achieve a four-year college degree. Every high school dropout costs taxpayers $565,000 in services, treatment and lost productivity.

Graduation Success is today’s most effective model for ensuring youth in foster care graduate from high school and launch successfully into adulthood.

The Treehouse Class of 2017 had an extended graduation rate of 82 percent.

Our Ask

With an additional $4 million in state funding, Graduation Success will expand to serve 834 more youth across Washington.


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How does the Driver's Assistance Program support youth in foster care?

Youth in foster care struggle to get to school and work, especially in rural communities where public transportation is limited. The cost of a permit, driver’s education and a driver’s license can exceed $700, plus the cost of auto insurance. Many foster parents cannot afford these costly expense.

In 2017, the Washington State Legislature funded a program to pay driving related fees—including insurance—for youth in care ages 15-21. In just one year of operation, Driver’s Assistance has served 681 youth across the state. This funding request would allow us to serve 50 percent of eligible youth statewide.

Our Ask:
Increase transportation funding for the Driver’s Assistance program by $600,000 for the 2019-2021 biennium to meet anticipated need statewide.

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Why do foster care caseworkers need more support?

Support Foster Care Caseworkers and Reduce Caseload Size

Issue identified by Department of Children, Youth and Families

THE PROBLEM: Child welfare caseworkers are first responders to our most vulnerable children. They do very challenging and complicated work keeping children safe, ensuring their well-being, and reuniting families. The cumulative stress of job, high caseloads, lack of organizational support, insufficient training and resources, limited access to technology, and burdensome paperwork are leading to high turnover rates.

The caseworker is the most critical investment in the success of families and safety of children in the child welfare system. Currently, high caseloads at the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) are leading to poor case management, high staff and foster parent turnover, lower rates of reunification, and increased placement in and length of stay in foster care.

National standards for effective foster care caseloads are between 12 and 15 youth per caseworker. Under the Braam v. Washington lawsuit settlement, DCYF is required to maintain caseloads of no more than 18 youth per worker. Currently, 43 percent of caseworkers have more than 20 youth on their caseloads, and 15 percent have caseloads of 25 or greater. At these levels, caseworkers do not have the capacity to monitor and address educational progress of the children and youth on their caseloads.

High caseloads and burnout are leading reasons for the high rate of caseworker turnover. For first-year caseworkers, the turnover rate is about 50 percent. Staff turnover at critical points in a youth’s placement may result in foster parents losing the support they need to maintain a placement. Caseworker turnover leads to high rates of foster parent turnover. Youth who have one caseworker during their time in foster care are much more likely to achieve permanency in a timely way than those who have two or more caseworkers.

THE SOLUTION: Pass HB 1631 and provide funding to increase caseworker support, improve caseworker training, reduce caseload size and improve trauma-informed self-care and supervision for caseworkers.


  • Decrease caseworker turnover rates.
  • Improve caseworker training and practice.
  • Reduce the length of stay in foster care.
  • Improve trauma-informed support to caseworkers following critical incidents.
  • Increase the capacity to address the educational needs of children and youth in foster care.

Urge your legislators to support HB 1631 to increase support for caseworkers and decrease caseloads!

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Why start transition planning at age 14?

Prepare Youth in Foster Care for Adulthood

Issue identified by youth through The Mockingbird Society

THE PROBLEM: Youth in foster face significant challenges as they leave foster care and transition into adulthood. Youth in foster care learn important adulthood skills through their caregivers, Independent Living service providers, and their Department of Children, Youth and Families caseworkers. However, caregiver engagement and skill can vary widely and caseworkers are stretched too thin with high caseloads to prioritize focused, ongoing transition planning with youth. Independent Living services are voluntary and are not available in every community statewide; in fact, only 29% of eligible youth are currently being served by these programs.

Federal guidelines mandate that the state begin transition planning for youth in foster care at age 14–at the latest–and to involve youth in the process. Transition to adulthood planning includes identifying needs and plans for education, employment, housing, health care, and reliable and safe community supports. Currently, transition planning centers around one meeting at age 17 ½. As a result, planning starts too late and tends to be perfunctory. When youth leave foster care without a comprehensive plan and the skills and supports they need, they are at higher risk of poverty, homelessness, and incarceration; in fact, 20% of foster care alumni are homeless within a year of aging out of the system.

THE SOLUTION: Support the Department of Children, Youth, and Families’ (DCYF) $5.3 million request to develop a youth-led, data driven transition planning initiative to ensure every youth exits foster care prepared for adulthood.


  • Create regional transition leads to facilitate proactive, youth-driven transition planning
  • Provide peer mentors and develop a transition curriculum
  • Ensure youth have the skills and supports they need around education, employment, and housing
  • Improve youth outcomes, including reducing homelessness

Urge your legislators to fund proactive, youth-driven transition to adulthood planning for foster youth!

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What harm is caused by jailing youth for running away or skipping school?

End Youth Detention for Running Away and Skipping School

Issue identified by youth through The Mockingbird Society

THE PROBLEM: In Washington State, youth can be jailed for various non-criminal offenses, including truancy, running away from home or foster care, violating curfew, or underage use of alcohol or tobacco. In 2016, this practice was used 1,781 times, significantly higher than any other state. The use of the Valid Court Order exception to arrest foster youth is a practice that funnels youth from the child welfare system into the criminal justice system.

TRUANCY: More than half of youth are detained due to truancy or chronic failure to attend school. This behavior is often a sign of underlying personal or family issues or lack of engagement, belonging or safety at school. Youth in foster care are much more likely to miss school than their peers. A 2018 Education Research & Data Center study found that 2012’s 9th grade students in foster care missed nearly one-third of school days in an academic year. Jailing youth for truancy is not effective in encouraging school attendance and results in youth missing additional time in the classroom.

RUNNING FROM FOSTER CARE:  Leaving a foster home should not be treated as a crime. Being placed in foster care is traumatizing and can have long lasting social and emotional impacts. Running can be a mechanism for coping with trauma and instability. Sometimes, youth run from an abusive or unsuitable placement. Incarceration only contributes to their trauma.

When a foster youth runs from their placement, a run report is issued to their local police department leading to their arrest and detention. Once they arrive at the detention center they are deprived of their personal freedom, searched, placed in a cell and punished for a non-criminal offense. Our state response should mirror the compassionate and caring response for non-foster youth, and return youth who run from care to their placements or to the Department of Children Youth and Families. Foster youth should not be treated differently than non-foster youth.

THE SOLUTION:  SB 5290 and HB 1434 will end the practice of jailing youth for noncriminal offenses through the elimination of the Valid Court Order Exception. Enhanced community-based services and alternatives to detention will ensure safe and appropriate placements for all foster youth.

Incarceration is harmful, expensive and ineffective. Ending the criminalization of youth that skip school or run away from care allows our state to focus on the root causes of why youth run in the first place and get them the services they need.

Urge your legislators to pass SB 5290/HB 1434 to end youth detention for non-criminal offenses!

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What are specific strategies to address the foster placement crisis?

Improve Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention

Issue identified by the Department of Children, Youth and Families

The Washington child welfare system continues to struggle to recruit and retain appropriate and positive foster care placements for the children and youth in its care, and in particular, adolescents. Treehouse supports a variety of legislative strategies to address the foster parent recruitment and retention crisis.

Reestablish the Parent Mentoring Program

Although highly successful at reducing the length of stay for children in foster care and reducing the rate of re-entry into foster care, the Parent Mentoring Program was terminated in 2009. The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is requesting $6.496 million to contract with a nonprofit entity or entities to reestablish the Parent Mentoring Program, which provides a skilled foster parent mentor to parents whose children are in an out-of-home placement. Mentors assist families in addressing specific barriers to reunification, develop healthy social supports and teach families how to advocate for their children. This funding will be sufficient for statewide implementation beginning December 1, 2019, and will serve approximately 2,200 children over the biennium.

Create an online portal to expedite foster parent applications and renewals

The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is requesting $2.794 million to build an online portal for foster parent applications and renewals. Automating the foster parent application will eliminate the current cumbersome paper application and renewal process, thereby improving foster parent satisfaction, reducing errors, decreasing the licensing process time and supporting efforts to conduct targeted recruitment of new foster parents.

Fund a foster parent/parent liaison pilot

The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is requesting $2.917 million to create a three-year foster parent and parent liaison pilot project in three child welfare offices. The pilot will fund skilled foster parents and parent allies who have successfully navigated the child welfare system. They’ll work with the department on foster parent recruitment efforts and on facilitating positive relationships between foster parents and parents whose children are in an out-of-home placement. The purpose of the pilot is to study the effects of wraparound support by multiple experts on reunification and recruitment of new foster parents.

Expand the Mockingbird Hub Home Model to Kent and other high needs communities

The Mockingbird Society Hub Home model is an innovate foster care delivery model that creates an extended family community to support, develop and retain foster families that can meet the challenging and complex needs of children and youth in foster care.  The Department of Children, Youth, and Families is requesting $872,000 to expand this model to additional communities.

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Why is an Office of Equity needed?

THE PROBLEM: Racial disparities exist at every decision point in the foster care system: A disproportionate percentage of children and youth of color are reported as suspected victims of abuse or neglect; a disproportionate percentage of families of color are screened in for CPS investigation; a disproportionate percentage of children and youth of color are removed from their families and placed in foster care; and children and youth of color spend longer in foster care and are less likely to be reunified with their families. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in foster care, and once in the system, often experience significant mistreatment including discrimination, abuse, harassment and additional trauma at the hands of caregivers, system professionals and peers.

Children of color continue to experience inequitable outcomes with their white counterparts across nearly every measure, including education, poverty, employment and health. Inequities based on race, ethnicity and gender continue to be deep, pervasive and persistent, and they come at a great economic and social cost to us all. When our children and youth face barriers to achieving their full potential, the impact is felt not only by them, but also by their communities, businesses, governments and the economy as a whole.

A more equitable and inclusive Washington is only possible if state agencies identify and implement effective strategies to eliminate systemic inequities. Over the years, significant strides have been made within agencies to address the disparate outcomes faced by communities of color. While some progress has been made, the work happening is uneven and fragmented across state government. In addition, smaller state agencies may not have the resources necessary to identify and implement policies and practices to address inequities based on race and ethnicity.

THE SOLUTION: Establish the Washington State Office of Equity to promote equitable access to opportunities and resources that reduce disparities across all state agencies. Identify and coordinate effective strategies that focus on eliminating systemic barriers based on race, ethnicity and gender.


  • Create a shared definition of equity.
  • Facilitate state policy, data and systems efforts to promote equity in policy, practice and outcomes.
  • Identify agency policies and practices that may perpetuate inequities.
  • Recommend best practices to agencies for promoting equity in service delivery.
  • Support agency efforts to build and maintain a diverse, inclusive and culturally sensitive workforce.

Urge your legislators to pass SB 5776/HB 1783 to create a Washington state Office of Equity!

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