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March 2004Vol. 5, No. 2Washington State Programs Address Permanency Outcomes

Two recent reports from Washington State detail strategies to enhance permanency outcomes for children in foster care.

Improving Parents' Representation in Dependency Cases

The Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD) developed a pilot program in 2000 to provide better legal representation to parents by training their attorneys to communicate regularly and prepare properly, decrease court delays by reducing attorneys' caseloads, and increase the compensation of parents' attorneys to a level closer to the amount spent by the State on pursuing dependency and termination. The OPD implemented the program in both a rural and an urban setting, using funds appropriated by the State legislature to hire additional attorneys, social workers, and support staff and to increase access to other services.

A review of 144 cases found:

  • There were significant reductions in the average number of days and the range of days from removal to shelter hearing for children once the pilot program began.
  • The average number of days spent in foster care decreased while days spent in relative care increased from the pre-pilot to full-pilot samples.
  • Cases of reunification increased from 36.8 percent for the pre-pilot sample to 56.4 percent for the full-pilot sample. Also, termination of parental rights decreased from 41.3 percent to 22.9 percent in the same respective samples.
  • The pilot program significantly increased the likelihood of reunification as an outcome for families with a previous history with the court.

A technical assistance brief on the project, "Improving Parents' Representation in Dependency Cases: A Washington State Pilot Program Evaluation," can be accessed on the Permanency Planning for Children Department of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges website at (961 KB).

Families for Kids Partnership

In 1998, Washington State's Families for Kids Partnership (FFKP) brought together a statewide coalition of more than 300 individuals from 90 organizations to develop a comprehensive 5-year plan to increase permanency for children in foster care. Participants included a broad range of stakeholders, including court representatives, public defenders, Tribes and Indian organizations, advocates, private agencies, foster and adoptive parents, CASA volunteers, and workers and administrators within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The outcomes of this effort, along with next steps, are detailed in the recently published Washington Permanency Report: Families for Kids Partnership 1998-2003.

Efforts focused on six strategic areas:

  • Expediting Permanence. Of the children reunified in FY 2002, 85 percent went home within 12 months, exceeding the Federal standard of 76.2 percent. Time from original placement to adoption decreased from 46 months in 1996 to 37 months in 2002.
  • Kinship Families. Of all children in care longer than 60 days, 33 percent were placed with relatives in 2002 (up from 27 percent in 1997).
  • Alternate (Non-kin) Permanent Families. For children who entered care for the first time in FY 2002, 82 percent had only 1 or 2 placements in their first year of care.
  • Effective Practice with the Youngest Children. The average time from placement to adoption for infants was 32.8 months in 2002, compared to 43 months in 1996.
  • Permanence for Adolescents. In 2002, there were 236 youth (ages 13 to 18) who were adopted or who gained guardians, up from just over 200 youth in 1998.
  • Community Involvement. Community programs to enrich the lives of children in foster care now operate in at least 14 counties.

FFKP is funded through the Stuart Foundation, by the Children's Administration, Casey Family Programs, Children's Home Society of Washington, the Office of the Administrator of the Courts, and the Northwest Children's Fund. For more information about the partnership or copies of this report, visit their website at (Editor's note: Link no longer active).