The state ombudsman for foster families, Patrick Dowd, was cautiously optimistic about the legal development and said he was “pleased” that many regulations are taking effect immediately. But he warned that if children are not placed in adequate settings with the services they need, it will be “window cleaning”.

For years Hundreds of Washington are sponsoring the youth social workers who have not placed in homes or group care have spent nights in government offices and hotel rooms – even in social worker cars – in locations ill-equipped to adequately care for traumatized adolescents separated from their families.

In January, two nonprofit legal organizations and a private law firm filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of three foster children alleging the practices on which the youth welfare office relied exacerbated the children’s mental health problems, disrupted their education and destroyed their ability to trust adults – which “erases any hope” they have for long-term stability.

This story was originally published on June 22nd, 2021 by The imprint, an independent, not-for-profit daily newspaper focused on the country’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

The legal action, filed January 28, details the living conditions of three children in foster families whom the state has placed in emergency shelters such as hotels and offices. They are identified by their initials on court documents: DY, a 13-year-old who has lived in 30 nursing and group homes since he was removed from his mother in 2016, and HA, a 16-year-old foster boy who was 15 years old. Mal moved for over five years, including internships in extra-state institutions in Idaho, Tennessee and Utah. The third is 16-year-old DS, who entered a foster family last year and has not had a stable home since April 2020 – commuting between overnight stays, hotels and government offices.

In their lawsuit, Disability Rights Washington, the California-based National Center for Youth Law, and Carney Gillespie Isitt allege that the Youth Department’s guidelines protect the rights of foster children with disabilities under the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, section. violate 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980.

According to the agreement reached last Friday before US District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, the state must notify the court by September 1 of how it will stop placing children in hotels, motels and offices.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Ministry of Children, Youth and Family said the office was “working with our community of providers to ensure we have appropriate placement opportunities for these youth in need”.

The proposed court order will end the practice of placing children in cars, hotels and offices on November 1st. From now until then, adolescents who do not have a place to sleep will be cared for according to a 13-point list of treatment guidelines. In the meantime, the Ministry of Children, Youth, and Family must prioritize hotel stays over office nights, and children staying in emergency shelters for more than five nights must be able to keep the same hotel room and leave their belongings there. The agreement also stipulates that if a child has to spend night hours in an office or car – with no transportation time – an incident report must be drawn up and the child’s lawyer notified.

The imprint was published in October the history by a teenager, then 16-year-old Espen James, a member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian tribes of Alaska. For over six months last year, she spent most of the nights in makeshift shelters, including a night in a social worker’s Prius in the parking lot of a government building.

Espen, who is transgender, said in an interview last year that she was offered an all-male group home.

“I told them I wouldn’t take it,” she said, “so they made me spend the night in an office parking lot.”

Aspen is just a face behind the numbers. The Washington State Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds reported that in the fiscal year ended Aug. 1, 220 foster children spent 1,863 nights in hotels or office buildings because the state responsible for their care could not find better accommodation anywhere. The Guard Dog Office began tracking the number of nights foster children slept in hotels and offices in 2015 when 72 children spent 120 nights in these facilities. As of May 194 foster children have spent 1,608 overnight stays in hotels or offices in the 2021 financial year.

Dowd – whose ombudsman has produced annual reports detailing the trauma caused by placing children in hotels and offices – said the problem was not going to be easy to fix.

“Many of these young people have very special needs; they need a therapeutic place, ”he said. “If the department doesn’t find enough places, we won’t make up any ground.”

During these times when they are practically homeless in foster families, Aspens and other children have reported receiving few nutritional options other than fast food or supermarket items. They spent whole days in government offices, only a phone distracted them, reports teenagers and their lawyers. According to the proposed agreement, the Youth Welfare Office must provide food that meets the nutritional needs of the young people, as well as healthy snacks. It must also transport the children to school or provide space for online school.

In its statement, the Ministry of Children, Youth and Family said negotiations are ongoing on the underlying merits of the case brought by youth attorneys. The first agreement last Friday includes “limited steps the agency will take in a very challenging situation,” the department said.

In the past, Department Secretary Ross Hunter used the word “cruel” to tell The Imprint that child placement in offices and hotels was “an egregious problem.”

The ministry has denied a policy of accommodating young people in cars. But in addition to reporting from The Imprint, such troubling experiences have been documented by Seattle television network KING5. Last month the station broadcast one detection reports that teenagers were detained in cars overnight as a punishment for refusing foster or group accommodation.