During the 2015 legislative session, The Mockingbird Society helped advocate for and pass Extended Foster Care, the Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act, and Medication Management for Foster Youth. We also supported the YEAR (Youth Equality and Reintegration) Act, which passed with overwhelming support. Here is a little background information about these bills and the process of getting them passed.
For the last eight years, The Mockingbird Society has fought rigorously to have Extended Foster Care (EFC) fully implemented throughout Washington state. It started as a state pilot program in 2006 serving 50 youth each year. Inspired by what he saw in his home state, Congressman Jim McDermott took this idea to Congress with hopes of seeing it implemented at the federal level. After Congress passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act in 2008, states were given the opportunity to implement programs and services for foster youth beyond age 18.
In 2011, we passed the first category of youth eligible for EFC under the Fostering Connections Act. This allowed youth who were pursuing a GED or High School Diploma to remain in Foster Care until age 21. Each year following 2011, The Mockingbird Society has successfully advocated the state Legislature to implement one after another of these eligibility categories. Now, in 2015 we have successfully added all five groups — this year’s bill (SB 5740) makes it so that youth with a documented medical condition that prevents them from going to work or attending school can participate in EFC. One important thing to note about this year’s legislation is that the bill does not take effect until July 1, 2016.
The Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection (HYPP) Act (SB 5404) will establish an office at the state level responsible for coordinating homeless youth and young adult services across the state. Right now in Washington, individual communities are responsible for coordinating and providing services to their homeless youth and young adult population.
The problem with this is that the level of access to services varies drastically between communities. For example, bigger cities like Seattle and Spokane are able to provide more resources to young people experiencing homelessness. Luckily, through partnerships with the Governor’s office and advocacy coalitions, Washington has recognized that youth and young adult homelessness is a statewide issue. Governor Jay Inslee signed the HYPP Act into law on April 24th. The state Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Programs will be established before the start of 2016.
The Medication Management for Foster Youth Bill (HB 1879) will build upon existing policy. Currently in Washington state, if a youth is prescribed five different psychotropic medications or two from the same category, then a second opinion is automatically requested. This second opinion will allow another medical expert to assess the situation and determine whether that psychotropic medication is suitable for the youth. With the new legislation, a second opinion is required when any anti-psychotic medication is prescribed to any foster youth under the age of 18. It does allow for 30 days of medication to be prescribed before a review is conducted. It will also require discussions around alternative treatment plans. The bill has an effective date of July 24, 2015.
Last, but not least is the YEAR Act (SB 5564). The YEAR Act was designed to give low-income youth with juvenile records a fighting chance to transition into adulthood. The YEAR Act eliminates almost all of the legal financial obligations for juveniles, making record sealing more accessible for non-violent offenders. Youth will still have to pay their restitution to an individual victim before being eligible for sealing, but the changes in law will remove many of the court fines and fees that often create a huge barrier to sealing a record. The YEAR Act also eliminates the interest juveniles pay on their restitution. The Governor signed the YEAR Act into law on May 14th, and it becomes effective July 24, 2015. We want to thank the University of Washington law students in the Children and Youth Legislative Advocacy Clinic and Columbia Legal Services for leading this effort.
In conclusion, this legislative session has been a busy and incredibly successful one! The Legislature has also been hard at work making decisions with a lack of funding. As we gear up for our 10th Annual Foster Youth and Alumni Leadership Summit in August, we will continue to work hard and advocate for systems reform for all foster and homeless youth within Washington state.