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01.13.2021

Treehouse’s Legislative Priorities Critical for Youth in Foster Care

By Desiree Lindsay, Treehouse Marketing & Communications Consultant

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Youth experiencing foster care fall behind their peers on every academic and stability measure, and the Covid-19 pandemic has severely deepened these inequities.

“It’s difficult watching our youth go through this. Some of them have worked so hard to maintain academic progress and personal growth, and they still face unfair effects amidst the pandemic compared to many of their peers,” said Claire Smith, one of Treehouse’s Launch Success Coaches.

With this in mind, Treehouse is advocating for the following priorities during the current Washington state legislative session which kicked off this week:

Preserve and Expand Equitable Education Supports

While Washington state has strong education programs for youth in foster care, funding and socio-geographic obstacles prevent every youth in care from having access to the educational and emotional supports provided to those in more urban areas. In 2020, only 50% of students in foster care graduated high school on time in our state. In the wake of COVID-19, these inequities have only deepened as our students experience high levels of disengagement from school, increased mental health needs and learning loss.

From the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s 2020 Report Card.

We are thankful that the Governor’s proposed budget preserves current education supports for Graduation Success, Educational Advocacy, Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Passport to Careers. Treehouse asks the legislature to expand funding by $2 million for 300 additional youth statewide to take part in Graduation Success.

Preserve Transition to Independence Funding

Alumni of foster care are more likely than their peers to live in poverty, require public assistance, and experience homelessness and incarceration. During the pandemic, young adults who have experienced foster care were among the first to experience food instability, rental assistance and childcare loss.

To help mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, we must meet their basic needs and ensure their transition to independence is successful. Treehouse has advocated for a moratorium to exiting young adults from Extended Foster Care at the age of 21 to prevent them from being exited into homelessness. We ask the legislature to create a system of step-down and young-adult centered supports so they are not cut off from services on their 21st birthday.

Disrupt the Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline

Over the past three years, Treehouse has partnered to address the concerning trend of youth in foster care experiencing the juvenile and criminal justice systems. According to DCYF, 40% of youth in juvenile rehabilitation facilities have experienced foster care and this pathway can often begin with punitive and inequitable school discipline.

Treehouse asks the legislature to increase essential behavioral therapy and substance use treatment, as well as re-entry and transitional aftercare support. We are also calling for expanded training for school resource officers and staff, and increased data collection related to student arrests.

Provide Financial Support to Relative Caregivers

Without licensing, relative caregivers do not have access to the financial support and services that are provided to licensed foster families despite 45% of youth being placed with relatives. Treehouse asks the legislature to modify licensing requirements to improve relatives’ access to licenses and stipends.

Dawn Rains, Treehouse’s Chief Policy and Strategy Officer, says “we’re grateful there’s support in the proposed budget to protect critical funding for specialized programs for youth in foster care. But there’s still over 600 youth in Washington without support and we’re asking the legislature to expand Graduation Success funding so we can reach more of these youth who are the furthest from educational justice.”

 

Be a voice for youth in foster care by joining our Advocacy Action Center at treehouseforkids.org/advocate.

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About the Author

Desiree Lindsay is the Marketing and Communications Consultant at Treehouse, where she elevates the voices and experiences of the youth we serve.


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