It’s time to reform our broken foster care system

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Our foster care system is broken. I should know because I was in foster care as a child.

When I was nine years old, my mother married a man who turned out to be a monster. He gave me my first black eye in the fifth grade, which left my teachers with no choice but to call Child Protective Services. After conducting an investigation, I was removed from my home and put in foster care.

When I returned home after some time, my stepfather proceeded to sexually abuse me. He didn’t like when I pushed him away, so he hurt me. Over and over again.

I eventually got the courage to talk to my caseworker about what I had been experiencing, but she didn’t believe me, so the abuse continued. Instead of showing compassion and taking steps to intervene, she turned a blind eye to some of the worst abuses imaginable. Perhaps most appalling is that instead of being reprimanded, she received a promotion and is still working with children today.

I wish I could say the neglect I experienced was unique, but this has been happening to foster children for years.

In 2015, The Seattle Times conducted an investigation and found none of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) staffers involved in 12 separate cases of child abuse over the previous eight years had ever been demoted, suspended or fired.  You may wonder how that’s possible, but it can be directly attributed to a lack of oversight and accountability that’s existed for a long time within DSHS — the state’s largest agency.

Last year, I helped arrange meetings across the state for foster parents to meet with their local legislators to talk about their experiences with the foster care system. Many parents told us they felt DSHS wasn’t giving them the support they needed, and that it was difficult to watch children suffer as a result of poor case management.

This year, we have an opportunity to begin reforming our broken system through two pieces of legislation.

House Bill 1661 would move DSHS Children’s Administration out of DSHS and merge it with the Department of Early Learning. This would create a system of checks and balances that doesn’t currently exist within DSHS, and help to reverse the culture of dysfunction in the foster care system.

Another measure, Senate Bill 5890, would fund college tuition for teenagers in foster care, increase funding for families who adopt teenagers, fast track foster care licensure for former foster parents in good standing, and develop a plan to provide support to foster families in crisis.

Both bills have received an overwhelming amount of bipartisan support and will likely be signed into law by the governor later this year. It’s a good start, but there is much more work ahead.

I became a foster parent because I wanted to improve the life of another child in the foster care system. I then ran for office because I knew the difference I could make in the Legislature, working hand-in-hand with members on both sides of the aisle to improve outcomes for these children.

This year, we have an opportunity to take bold steps, prioritizing what’s in the best interest of foster children while ensuring quality foster parents and caseworkers are receiving adequate support.

It’s going to take continued hard work and dedication, but by working together, we can change a system that’s failed so many, and bring hope to those who need it most.

If you’ve been thinking about becoming a foster parent, please call 1-888-KIDS-414 to learn more about how you can be part of the solution. We currently have a shortage of foster parents in Washington state, so we need your help. We will continue to make progress on this issue in the Legislature, but you can make an immediate difference by providing a stable, loving home for a child.

The time is now to fix our foster care system. We can’t wait any longer.

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Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, is serving her second term in the state House of Representatives. She serves on the House Appropriations, Education and Health Care and Wellness committees.

State Representative Michelle Caldier
26th Legislative District
RepresentativeMichelleCaldier.com
122G Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
michelle.caldier@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7802 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000