Foster kids get new protections as governor signs O’Ban bill to provide legal representation

Starting today, Washington’s foster children have new legal protections in a system known for letting kids without parental or guardian connections fall through the cracks. Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 6126 that guarantees legal representation for any foster child who no longer has his natural parents. Primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, called the new law a, “major step forward for the 10,000 foster kids in Washington.”

“Many of our most vulnerable kids now have a voice to help protect them from the worst kind of predators” says Pierce County lawmaker

The law provides foster children with legal representation in dependency proceedings. Washington now joins a majority of other states that already require similar protections of a child’s legal rights when all parental rights to a child have been severed. “These kids now have a fighting chance to move out of the foster-care system and into adoptive, loving homes much more quickly,” O’Ban said.

“This is additional legal protection to help vulnerable children who may become victims of the growing crisis of child sex trafficking,” said O’Ban, who serves as chair of the Human Services and Corrections Committee and is a member of the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Statewide Coordinating Committee,  “We know that 60 percent of teens lured into sex trafficking are foster kids. It’s the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and I can’t think of anyone more vulnerable than a child who is an orphan without parental guidance.”

O’Ban added that former foster children from other states testified in support of the bill and talked about how alone they felt before being granted a legal representative and how much of a difference it made. “We’re doing the right thing with this new law,” O’Ban said.

O’Ban thanked the many child advocacy groups who helped promote the bill and educate lawmakers on the need to add legal protections. “Columbia Legal Services, Partners for Our Children, Catholic Community Services, and The Mockingbird Society were leading organizations that worked tirelessly to ensure these kids were given the legal protections they deserved. I am grateful for their efforts and guidance that kept this bill moving forward,” O’Ban said.

“This legislation would not have happened without Sen. Andy Hill adding the funds for this important legal protection for kids in the Senate budget and fighting for its inclusion in the final budget,” O’Ban said.

Passage of SB 6126 was one of O’Ban’s top priorities heading into the 2014 legislative session.