Legislative Achievements

2022 Legislative Achievements

Remove Barriers Through Educational Advocacy

The Treehouse Educational Advocacy program removes barriers related to school enrollment and stability, access to special education services, school discipline and academic progress. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in additional educational barriers for youth experiencing foster care. We secured funding to address Educational Advocacy waitlists and meet the acute needs of youth experiencing exceptional placements (i.e. hotel or DCYF office stays) that are frequently disruptive to their education experience and needs.

Align and Strengthen Education Law

Varying definitions of foster care terminology used by Washington State has created barriers in accessing state services designated for students in foster care. Treehouse worked to pass legislation that aligned foster care terminology in the education statute. By aligning foster care terminology in the education statute, we ensured that all students with similar foster care experiences – those in out-of-home care, in trial return home, in the care of a federally recognized tribe, or in the federal unaccompanied refugee minors program – will have consistent access regardless of the legal status of their case or placement type (HB1955).

Extend Support for Alumni of Care

The Washington state legislature allocated $10.6 million to provide economic and housing stability to young people who aged out of Extended Foster Care during the pandemic. In April 2022, Treehouse began distributing these funds to eligible young people.

Ensure Mobility and Independence Through Driver’s Assistance Program

A survey of the Mockingbird Youth Network showed that only 11% of youth experiencing foster care obtained their driver’s license by age 18. The Driver’s Assistance Program supports eligible youth with funding for their permit, driver’s education, licensing, and car insurance to allow them to get to school and work reliably and safely. This year, funding for the program was renewed, allowing Treehouse to maintain our current service levels.

2021 Legislative Achievements

Graduation Success Statewide Expansion

Treehouse secured an additional $4.89 million to bring the Graduation Success program to the remaining 600 high school students statewide by 2023. In addition to increased state funding, this expansion requires Treehouse to raise the significant charitable contributions required to make this dream a reality. This is the a critical step to ensuring that youth experiencing foster care have the opportunity to determine their own path and complete high school, with support and a plan to transition into independence.

Financial Support for Relative Caregivers

While 45% of youth in foster care are placed with relatives, their caregivers cannot receive financial support and services without becoming licensed foster parents. Senate Bill 5151 created a streamlined, child-specific foster parent licensing process, improving relatives’ access to monthly foster care stipends, training and support.

Other key legislative achievements

  • The legislature passed Senate Bill 5184 which established a school building point of contact in every K-12 public school to coordinate services and resource for students in foster care.
  • Approximately 40% of youth in Washington’s juvenile rehabilitation facilities have experienced foster care, and many meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. The legislature made significant investments to address trauma, provide access to behavioral therapy and substance abuse treatment and improve reentry options and aftercare supports (HB 1186 & HB 1295).

2020 Legislative Achievements

Project Education Impact

Treehouse continues to co-lead Project Education Impact, a statewide initiative involving legislators, nonprofits and four state agencies. The collaboration’s goal is to achieve educational equity for youth experiencing foster care and/or homelessness in Washington state from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary.

In 2019, Project Education Impact submitted a report to the Washington State Legislature that recommended programs, policies and investments to achieve this goal. We successfully advocated with the legislature to continue this important work through 2024 and provide that workgroup with annual educational outcomes data.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our robust partnership was crucial in quickly assessing and responding to the statewide needs of youth experiencing foster care and/or homelessness. We continue to advocate that federal stimulus dollars can be directed to meet the needs of our students who are furthest from educational opportunities.

Disrupting the Foster Care to Prison Pipeline

About 40% of youth incarcerated in Washington’s juvenile rehabilitation system have been in foster care. These dual-system involved youth are much more likely to be incarcerated as adults.

In December, Treehouse partnered with the Concerned Lifers Organization – a group of men serving life or very long sentences at the Monroe Correctional Complex – to host a cross-systems conversation about disrupting the foster care to prison pipeline. Many of these men call themselves “state raised” because they were in foster care growing up and believe they were trained by the system to be institutionalized as adults.

Over 100 colleagues from the child welfare, school, juvenile and adult correctional systems attended the convening to hear the men’s powerful stories about what led them from foster care to prison and to brainstorm cross-systems solutions. Treehouse continues to expand our role in aiding to disrupt the foster care to prison pipeline.

Other key legislative achievements:

  • The Achieving Educational Success for Foster & Homeless Students Act (SHB 2711) will continue the Project Education Impact workgroup to lead the effort to achieve educational equity for youth experiencing foster care and/or homelessness through 2024.
  • A variety of solutions will increase safe and stable placements for youth with high mental, behavioral or developmental health needs, including reducing the need for hotel stays.
  • DCYF will receive additional staffing for its Adolescent Program Unit, which focuses on providing effective adolescent services and addressing cross-systems challenges including education, homelessness and supportive placements for LGBTQ+ youth.
  • The monthly stipend for foster parents will be increased by $100 per child per month after no increases for several years.
  • The use of solitary confinement is now prohibited in juvenile detention and juvenile rehabilitation institutions (HB 2277)
  • An Institutional Education Task Force will be established to examine education barriers and identify solutions for youth in juvenile rehabilitation facilities (HB 2116).

2019 Legislative Achievements

End Youth Detention for Status Offenses (SB 5290)

Perhaps the biggest win of the session, the practice of jailing youth for skipping school, running away and other noncriminal offenses will be phased out over the next few years. This timeline will allow state and local communities to strengthen and expand community-based services and alternatives to detention to ensure that young people and families are quickly connected to needed supports. Led by the Mockingbird Society, we were proud to partner with a large coalition of legislators and advocates to pass this bill after three years of trying.

Support Caseworkers and Reduce Caseload Size (SB 5955)

Washington is the fourth worst state in the nation when it comes to achieving timely permanency for children and youth in foster care, meaning that youth either return to their family or are placed in another forever family. The most significant driver of children lingering in foster care is caseworker turnover. SB 5955 improves caseworker support and training, and implements trauma-informed, reflective supervision for caseworkers. On the downside, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) requested funding for an additional 154 caseworkers to reduce caseload size to national best practice standards but only received funding for 10 additional caseworkers.

Expand Youth Voice on State Boards and Committees (HB 1561 and HB 1657)

Youth will have increased representation at state agency decision-making tables. The DCYF Oversight Board will add one young person who has experienced foster care and one young person who has experienced the juvenile justice system. An additional young person who has experienced homelessness will serve on the Office of Homeless Youth Advisory Committee.

More Education Wins

Special education funding to school districts is expanded significantly. As 40% of the youth we serve require special education services, this is a huge win. The Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), a pre-kindergarten program serving at-risk three and four year olds and their families with preschool, parent involvement and training, health services and intensive family support will be expanded to serve hundreds more children.

 

*Issue identified by youth who have experienced foster care

2018 Legislative Achievements

Education Equity (included in the final budget bill, and originally SB 6223 and HB 2877)

A group of five state agencies and several nonprofit organizations will work to align programs, accountability, policy and resources culminating in a report due to the Washington State Legislatures in December 2018. The report will include a plan for children and youth experiencing foster care and/or homelessness to achieve educational equity with their peers while closing the gap between racial and ethnic groups.

Extended Foster Care (SB 6222)

Extended Foster Care provides critical stability to youth transitioning from foster care into adulthood. The age eligibility to enroll in the program will change from 19 to 21, and young adults will be able to enroll and exit out of the program as many times as they need.

Passport to Careers (SB 6274)

The Passport to College Promise program, provided by College Success Foundation, was originally created to help students from foster care attend and succeed in college. The program will now include financial assistance for apprenticeships and per-apprenticeships prompting a name change to “Passport to Careers.” Under this new legislation, eligibility will incorporate youth placed in Washington from another state, youth in federal and tribal foster care systems and unaccompanied homeless youth.

 

*Issue identified by youth who have experienced foster care

Past Achievements

Since 2001, Treehouse has led or collaborated on landmark legislation to support the educational attainment and well-being of youth in foster care. With the support of our legislative champions, we’ve worked to:

  • Minimalize enrollment times when students transfer schools
  • Improve communication and data-sharing between school systems and the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
  • Encourage foster home recruitment
  • Simplify credit transfer for students entering new high schools
  • Make all youth in foster care eligible for College Bound
  • Improve school discipline policies for youth in foster care
  • Improve education planning requirements for students when discipline takes them out of school
  • Coordinate academic support services for youth in foster care

But with less than half of Washington State’s high school youth in foster care graduating on time, we still have work to do.

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