After not one, not two – but three – special sessions, the 2015 legislative session has finally come to an end. Despite taking longer than anticipated, overall, we are thrilled that the final budget and several bills support vulnerable children and families in Washington state.

Let’s take a look at a few of those bills that will improve lives:

  • We were honored to have had the opportunity to work on the passage of the Roger Freeman act – in honor of the late Rep. Freeman (HB 2140) – which removes the expiration of two good cause exceptions for the court not to order DSHS to file a petition to seek the termination of parental rights if a child has been in out-of-home care for 15 of the last 22 months (since the date a dependency petition was filed).
  • The parent for parents program, a peer-mentoring program was established (SB 5486), which we believe will help to increase permanency and wellbeing of children in foster care.
  • Through SB 5404, the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention will focus on preventing, reducing, and measurably eliminating the number of homeless youth on our streets and focusing on increasing family reunification. SB 5404 is a major and welcomed step forward with respect to truly focusing on the needs of homeless youth and young adults.
  • SB 5740 extends foster care services for youth who are unable to engage in eligible activities due to a medical condition; requires DSHS to use providers with a valid Medicaid core provider agreement and requires DSHS to coordinate services to maximize federal resources and the most cost efficient delivery of services for extended foster care youth. SB 5740 completes five years of amazing work led by the Mockingbird Society to implement the ‘foster care to 21’ component of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act passed by Congress in 2008.
  • After initially dying, SB 5317 came back to life and passed in the nick of time. The bill will increase child health equity by requiring screening for autism and developmental delays for children birth to 3 on Medicaid.
  • Early learning got a significant boost through HB 1491which aims to improve quality early care and education.
  • HB 1879 focuses on the mental health needs of children/youth in foster care by directing the Health Care Authority to issue a request for proposals to provide integrated managed health and behavioral health care for foster children receiving care through the medical assistance program. Additionally the bill deals with prescribing practices regarding antipsychotic medications by requiring a second opinion and an assessment of other, psycho-social interventions that should be considered.

That’s just a snapshot. A couple other child welfare related bills that passed (again not an exhaustive list!) include: SB 5692 which amends current law to be consistent with recently passed federal legislation and states that a permanency plan of care may only identify long-term relative or foster care for a child between ages 16 and 18. And SB 5888 which requires that in the event of a near fatality of a child who is in the care of, or receiving services from DSHS, or received services within three months preceding the near fatality, DSHS must notify the office of the family and children’s ombuds and a review of the near fatality must be conducted.

Finally, we are grateful that the operating budget turned out quite well for children and families, including:

  • $30.623 million for a 9 percent partial restoration of the TANF grant (previously cut by 15 percent in 2011);
  • $21.688 million for Early Start;
  • $3.873 million (General Fund State); $5.097 million (total) for a 6 percent rate increase for Behavioral Rehabilitative Services;
  • 2 million (additional funds) for Home Visiting;
  • $1.25 million for implementation of Performance Based Contracting;
  • $867,000 for the newly established Office of Homeless Youth Programs;
  • $75,000 for the One Family One Team court improvement pilot planning process; and
  • 43.1 new FTEs for the Children's Administration for Child Protective Services investigations, continued implementation of the Family Assessment Response, and Child and Family Services.

A few bills did not pass but will likely continue to be discussed during the interim or come up next session – including HB 1875 (related to the WorkFirst program); HB 2113 (creating a task force on poverty) and HB 1501 (public-private financing for prevention-focused social services). Stay tuned for more on these fronts.

So, after one long session and three special sessions, everyone is breathing a major sigh of relief that the legislature adjourned and (hopefully!) won't reconvene again until January 2016. In the meantime, there is a lot of interim work to do to prepare for 2016.

If you would like to discuss any other piece of legislation related to vulnerable children and families in Washington State, email us at info@partnersforourchildren.org.