OLYMPIA, Wash. — On Tuesday, the State of Washington settled a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of children in the state's foster care system.
The settlement between the Department of Children, Youth and Families and Disability Rights Washington will provide alternatives for foster children who have been forced to spend the night in state offices instead of licensed foster care homes.
Lawyers representing foster children said the agency will develop new housing programs for older foster youth – who are typically harder to place.
The state agency agreed to implement new models to support youth in foster care and their families, according to a statement from the lawyers. Additionally, it will work to improve its policies and practices.
A court-appointed monitor will oversee the progress.
"With this settlement, there's much broader, more sweeping changes," said attorney Kristen Bishopp, who represented one of the named plaintiffs, a foster youth, in the lawsuit. "There are changes, especially with congregate care facilities, group care facilities, that that will create more alternative living arrangements.
Last year, KING 5 investigators found that high-level administrators at the Department of Children, Youth and Families ordered overnight office stays as punishment for children with behavior problems. The investigation found a years-long pattern of Washington child protection workers dangling basic necessities like a safe, warm place to sleep as a way to get certain “hard to place” foster children to behave or follow orders.
Interviews with current and former social workers revealed some foster youth assigned to sleep in agency offices rarely had access to beds, instead being made to sleep on couches, chairs and air mattresses. Beds and other necessities were withheld when a child in the foster care system acted out or refused to go to a placement at a foster home or group, according to the workers.
The state agency agreed to end the practice of office stays shortly after the investigation.