OLYMPIA – Today in a unanimous vote the House passed SB 6126, which will provide at-risk youth with attorneys to help them through the foster care system.
In most states all foster children have lawyers, but Washington ranks 48th in the nation in the degree of legal representation offered to foster youth. Some counties in Washington offer attorneys, but most do not, leaving foster youth at the whim of “justice by geography.”
Rep. Roger Goodman sponsored the House companion bill, HB 1285, and has been working on this issue for years. On the bill’s passage Rep. Goodman spoke on the House floor, “These children bounce from house to house, school to school, and neighborhood to neighborhood, not knowing what’s going on. Everyone else in the courtroom has a lawyer to help them, but these vulnerable children have no one they can trust, no one to confide in so that their legal interests are protected.”
Research shows that foster children who have attorneys find permanent homes much more quickly than those who do not have attorneys. Shortening the time a child is in the foster care system saves the child from avoidable trauma, medical costs and social and emotional problems. Attorneys can also ensure that foster children remain in the same school or are placed with other family members, greatly increasing their stability and quality of life.
“In the courtroom, it is most important that the person whose future is at stake – the child – is represented,” said Rep. Goodman. “This bill is a big step forward to give our most vulnerable youth the critical support they need. Providing attorneys to foster youth will ensure they find the safe, stable, happy homes – an opportunity all children deserve.”
SB 6126 now heads to Governor Inslee’s desk where he is expected to sign it.