Treehouse Celebrates State Legislative Wins for Youth in Foster Care: ‘It’s One Fundamental Step in Supporting Those Furthest from Equity’

By Desiree Lindsay, Treehouse Public Relations Coordinator

Washington State Legislature passed key bills to improve equity for youth experiencing foster care, including additional educational investments for Treehouse to expand statewide

The pandemic has not only exposed, but exacerbated, the severe inequities experienced by youth who have experienced foster care and other historically marginalized populations. The Washington State Legislature convened on January 11 with a commitment to address the impacts of COVID-19 and improve equity across many of our systems.

With bipartisan cooperation, increased public support and advocacy from state agencies and nonprofits, the state legislature passed several key bills that will improve supports for youth experiencing foster care.

Additionally, the legislature notably increased critical educational investments for Treehouse to expand its groundbreaking youth-centered academic program, Graduation Success, statewide.

“This funding is the culmination of a dream we launched back in 2011 and is the result of a decade of persistent and determined work by all those involved in systems change and advocacy work for youth in care,” said Dawn Rains, Treehouse Chief Policy and Strategy Officer.

“It is one critical step toward achieving our intended impact and one fundamental step in supporting those students who are furthest from educational equity.”

With this year’s legislative session focused on addressing the many impacts of the pandemic and improving equity, Treehouse is thrilled to share the following wins for youth experiencing foster care:

Treehouse will receive $4.89 million to expand Graduation Success statewide.

Since the inception of Graduation Success in 2013, the statewide foster care graduation rate has grown from 36.5% to 50.4%, more than double the rate of increase of their non-foster care peers. When students partner with Treehouse and can stay engaged through their senior year and beyond, their high school completion rate is 75%.

Senator Carlyle noted that the increase in statewide graduation rates is directly attributed to the quality of wraparound services available in the state. “The most obvious and substantive program associated with our K-12 system is Treehouse,” said the Senator, “the youth who have those services…have just extraordinary success rates.”

“We’ve proven the model and now with partnership in the K-12 system…we’ll be able to reach the highest level of high school graduation rate of youth in foster care in the United States of America,” Senator Carlyle added. 

This funding will bring the program to the remaining 600 high school students statewide by 2023. In addition to increased state funding, this expansion requires Treehouse to raise an additional $1 million in private contributions. The legislature also preserved current state investments in other Treehouse programs.

Establish school building points of contact in every K-12 public school.

Senate Bill 5184 requires each school district to clearly establish a point of contact in every school building for students in foster care, with the goal of coordinating services and resources.

As prime sponsor of SB 5184 and a foster care alumnus, Senator Nobles passionately testified that it was stable adults in her life, including adults at school, that encouraged her to engage in extracurricular activities, graduate high school and pursue a college degree.

“Youth are only successful if they have caring adults paying attention and helping them meet their goals,” said Senator Nobles, “I want to see us do better for students who are relying on us so they can succeed in school and in life.”

Provide financial support to relative caregivers.

While 45 percent 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 creates a child-specific license option and new procedures to streamline the licensing process to improve relatives’ access to monthly foster care stipends as well as training and support

Create community transition services for youth exiting juvenile rehabilitation.  

Approximately 40 percent of youth in juvenile rehabilitation facilities have experienced foster care and many meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The legislature made significant investments in community facility staffing and essential behavioral therapy and substance use disorder treatment for incarcerated youth. House Bill 1186 provides therapeutic community transition services to improve reentry outcomes in education, employment and behavioral health. House Bill 1295 increases education access to youth in and released from juvenile rehabilitation facilities.

Watch our 2021 Legislative Recap Session, Wins for Washington Youth in Care here.

Help Treehouse expand statewide: https://www.treehouseforkids.org/take-action/give/

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About the Author

Desiree Lindsay is the Public Relations Coordinator at Treehouse, where she elevates the voices and experiences of the youth we serve.

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