Dark blue tile with Orange Text reads: Expanding the Circle of Care. The text appears inside a series of orange and gold circles.

Expanding the Circle of Care

Youth detention centers and jails are not homes.  Everyone knows this. Everyone agrees. Yet TeamChild attorneys work with clients regularly to try to find a safe place for them to live when it is time for them to be released from detention.  In our experience, the impacted youth disproportionately identify as LGBTQIA and BIPOC; were adopted as younger children or had prior child welfare system involvement; and have mental health and/or developmental disabilities.  These are the most marginalized youth, and because of their cross-system involvement, they are often most likely to fall through safety nets between siloed systems. The court has ordered that these youth are to be released. The legal system has no authority to hold them in a detention facility, yet there is no place for them to live.  They cannot be released into homelessness and there is not an adequate social safety net to support their care in the community. The young person meanwhile receives a message – sometimes implicit and sometimes directly – that they are unwanted and unworthy of care, and they are forced to remain in detention in violation of their rights.

For a long time, systems of care considered a youth in detention “housed” and did not treat them like they were a youth experiencing homelessness, even if they have no safe home to live in when they are not in detention. This perception led to youth serving systems carving out youth in detention and youth facing criminal charges from their circle of care.  Now we have gaps in the way our youth serving systems are designed, so that a young person who is facing criminal charges may not be eligible for a variety of safe living programs, and young people who cannot return to a family home do not have enough options for a safe place to live when they are released from detention. TeamChild is seeking remedies for these structural problems in partnership with Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) Office of Juvenile Justice thanks to increased support from the state legislature this session.

While DCYF is a partner in this work, they oversee systems that have also created barriers.  The Child Welfare division of DCYF has determined that when a family refuses to allow a young person to return home after they are arrested and detained, this does not rise to the statutory level of abuse, neglect, or abandonment to activate a foster care placement.  In some cases, the family wants to be involved in helping and supporting the youth, but clearly articulate that they cannot meet the young person’s needs in their home. This problem has persisted and worsened over time. While there has been increasing recognition by courts and policy makers that detention can exacerbate health needs and trauma for young people, the problems related to their housing placement have worsened.

Youth who are arrested and placed in detention are often ready to return to the community within hours or days, if they have a housing placement with care and support to address their needs. Delays in their release are often solely due to the lack of community placement options. We seek to partner in the next two years with court and detention staff, state agencies, community service providers, families, and other stakeholders to expand or develop the respite, short-term voluntary placements, shelter options, family and community support systems, and other placement options to meet the immediate needs and long term supports for youth outside of detention. Our attorneys are available to represent individual youth who are facing barriers to release, and our policy team will connect with collaborators across the state to propose the resource investments, policy changes, and practice improvements that can open up access to safe housing for youth who are ready to leave detention. We are eager to dive into this work and expand the circle of care for youth who have been arrested and detained.

We hope you will continue to follow our advocacy efforts, reach out to us at [email protected] if you have personal experiences on these issues that you would like to share with us, and help us communicate this priority work to the larger community.

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