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WA Foster Kids Get (Another) Day in Court

January 18, 2008

Seattle, WA – The State of Washington should be a better parent. That's the view of attorneys who are back in court on behalf of 10,000 foster kids in the state system. The state had agreed to give foster children more stability and support, and set a timeline for improvements, in a settlement agreement in 2004.

It was the culmination of a lawsuit filed ten years ago by Jessica Braam, a young woman who had been in more than 30 foster homes before reaching adulthood. The case became a class action suit, and the resulting agreement was supposed to be a landmark that would improve the lives of every child in foster care in Washington. A "Braam Oversight Panel" was created to make recommendations and track progress.

Today, lawyers for the plaintiff claim the state has dragged its feet. Ruth Schubert of The Children's Alliance, says children's advocacy groups agree.

"This is really the ultimate 'state as parent' responsibility. I mean, these are children who, for various reasons, aren't living with their parents. And we just really need to make that commitment, and they've been very slow to do that."

The motion of enforcement in the Braam v. State of Washington case was filed in Whatcom County Superior Court on Thursday. Schubert says, even in this lean budget year, all eyes will be on the Washington Legislature to make this issue a priority, no matter what happens in court.

"We're arguing that this is something that can't wait another year. These kids really need to start getting some of the things that they were promised. It's a basic promise that the state makes to a child in foster care, that you will be taken care of."

Schubert says things like mental health screenings and monthly visits for safety and appropriateness of foster homes need to be stepped up. The Department of Social and Health Services agrees there are funding and staff shortages, but says going back to court "ignores the steady progress" the system has made.

More information about the settlement agreement can be found on the Braam Oversight Panel Web page, www.wsipp.wa.gov/braampanel.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA