There is no better phrase to describe this year's legislative session than "it's not over 'til it's over!" While there were some tense moments, overall we were thrilled that the final budget and several bills ended up supporting many vulnerable children and families of Washington State.
We'll break down how a few of these changes will improve lives. First, a bill that was essentially dead until it was miraculously brought back to life and passed on the final night of the legislative session: extended foster care. It should come as no surprise that youth who age out of foster care often face monumental life challenges. We're all considered adults at 18, yet most of us have a family to fall back on when things go awry. Foster children who age out do not have this same safety net. That's why more than 35 percent experience homelessness within one year after aging out, they are incarcerated at higher rates than their peers and many end up becoming young parents. These are not the ingredients for becoming thriving citizens of our state.
Fortunately, our state has made significant progress with extended foster care in the past few years. In previous legislative sessions, this potentially life-changing benefit was made available to youth pursuing their education or youth addressing barriers to work. This year, the benefit was extended to youth who work 80+ hours per month.. It's a small price to pay for some of the most vulnerable children out there - they deserve a fair shot at life and this extra support can help them tremendously.
Another big win this year was addressing an inequity with respect to child only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF aims to help families in need get back on their feet. Within the child welfare context, many children who are removed from their home are placed in the homes of other family members or kin. While the family members want to help, it can be a financial burden - raising a child is not cheap. To make matters worse, TANF eligibility has been more challenging to access for older individuals who are relying on "unearned income", such as retirement or social security.
Now let's consider who often takes in kin when a parent is struggling: the grandparents. So they have to try to make ends meet on a fixed income with one, two or even three more mouths to feed. When you factor in clothes, activities and other necessities of parenting, it can be a financial disaster. Fortunately, HB 2585 changes that. Now more caregivers will be eligible for child-only TANF funding to help support their families in times of need.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. We're also excited about the creation of the prudent parent standard, funding for a FAR evaluation, requirement to provide legally free foster children legal representation, and more.
If you would like to discuss any other piece of legislation related to vulnerable children and families in Washington State, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.