Exterior of the Yakima County Juvenile Justice Center featuring brick and glass entryway and blue sign next to a tree - photo by Donald W. Meyers - Yakima Herald-Republic

State Policy and TeamChild’s Direct Advocacy

The Washington State Legislature has been in session for three busy weeks. Because the session is so short (60 days) everything moves very quickly with no breaks for holidays or even weekends, sometimes.  TeamChild has been reviewing many bills and working especially hard to support key policy items including these two issues that are important to our clients and communities.

Senate Bill 5535 / House Bill 2034

First, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) proposed a bill this year to end “Parent Pay.”  This term means that DCYF used to charge parents, or make them pay money, for the cost of having their child incarcerated at a Juvenile Rehabilitation (JR) facility.  DCYF moved to end Parent Pay because they recognize that practice to be harmful, inequitable, and an old way of thinking about youth who make mistakes and how the youth and family should be held accountable.  The bill was improved by an amendment that also ends the collection of fees by Counties when the youth is detained in a local detention facility.

TeamChild supported the end to Parent Pay because we know from our clients and their families, that one important way to support a young person returning home from a time of incarceration is to make sure their family is as strong as they can be economically.  Owing money to the state is an added stress for the family and can impact their ability to meet their young person’s needs when they return home.  We also know that youth of color, especially Black, brown, and Indigenous youth, are disproportionately incarcerated at JR.  That means their families are disproportionately impacted by bills from JR.

This effort is aligned with TeamChild’s goals of reducing the disproportionate impact of the criminal system on youth of color and to support young people’s reentry to the community. Teresa Harmon from our Yakima County office provided additional local perspective on ending Parent Pay in a Yakima Herald-Republic article by reporter Vanessa Ontiveros last week. You can read the full article here.

Senate Bill 5788

Second, TeamChild worked with other advocates to propose some amendments to a new law that has been a huge benefit to young people, the Uniform Guardianship Act for Minors. The new law allows young people, under the age of 18, to petition the court to have a guardian appointed for them when their parents are not meeting their responsibilities to care for the youth.  However, some of the language in the new law was unclear and confusing to the parties and to the Courts. This led to a variety of rulings by different judges that seemed inconsistent.  It also left youth unclear if they would be able to get the relief they needed, especially in an emergency situation.  TeamChild supports Senate Bill 5788, which will improve and clarify the language in the emergency guardianship cases.

TeamChild supports the effort to make the guardianship act for minors as strong as possible because our clients have used this process to stabilize their living situations and avoid or end homelessness.  The young people who come to TeamChild seeking legal advocacy to create a stable guardian in their lives are demonstrating agency and initiative to make sure they have what they need to be successful.  This is also an important policy for TeamChild because we know that a stable and supportive family is a key protective factor to help youth avoid contact with the court system.

These are just two examples from these first weeks of the legislative session of how state policy interacts with TeamChild’s direct advocacy for young people.  We are excited to see changes that will have a significant impact on the lives of young people and their families and disentangle or keep them out of juvenile court.

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