O’Ban’s foster-care and adoption reforms win support of the Legislature

OLYMPIA— Sen. Steve O’Ban’s efforts to support Washington’s vulnerable children by encouraging fostering and adoption received a major boost today when the state Senate linked his proposed reforms to the new state operating budget.

The improvements were in a bipartisan bill from O’Ban, R-University Place, that won overwhelming Senate support in April but stalled in the House of Representatives; they are now part of the budget package that passed the Legislature on Friday.

“One of the primary duties of our government is to protect the most vulnerable and these kids are in tough places through no fault of their own,” said O’Ban. “This is a good first step but I intend to continue to seek ways to improve how this state treats the children in its care.”

The reforms include the provision of expanded respite care during which foster parents can take a break from caretaking responsibilities and attend to other needs. The state Department of Social and Health Services would also be required to identify a system of support services.

“Foster parents are the most essential ingredient to bringing these children into a loving, structured environment,” said O’Ban. “We asked a lot of questions of foster parents about what would best help them and the need for respite care, so they could catch a little break consistently, ranked near the top. Giving these parents a little break from time to time is the least we can do to thank them.”

The reforms would also simplify the process and reduce the wait for former foster parents in good standing with DSHS to return to foster care by allowing probationary licensing. In an effort to improve child placements, DSHS would be required to establish a case review panel to review foster cases where permanency has not been achieved within 12 months after the child was placed in foster care. State employees who become licensed foster parents would benefit from a new shared-leave pool into which any state employee could donate leave to help licensed foster parents care for – or prepare to accept – a foster child into their home.

“The writing on the wall has been clear,” said O’Ban. “This state has been losing foster parents and we needed to find ways to show greater appreciation and support for what they do for the neediest of our kids. That’s exactly what I’m seeking to do with these reforms.”

O’Ban’s reform package includes new incentives for adoption as well. The package would increase the cap for adoption-support maintenance payments for children five years or older – up to 95 percent of the foster-care maintenance payment for children aged 14 to 18. It would repeal income-eligibility rules for non-parental caregivers receiving a financial-assistance grant on behalf of a child living with the caregiver. It also extends eligibility in the state’s College Bound Scholarship Program to include foster youth and other children adopted between the ages of 14 and 18 with a negotiated adoption agreement who have received a high-school equivalency certificate.

“These improvements are needed for the sake of the kids, first and foremost,” O’Ban explained. “Incentivizing adoption, finding kids permanent homes and giving them a better shot at higher education saves the state money in the end, making these reforms not just good for kids but smart investments for the state as well.”