The Mockingbird Society champions legislation that significantly improves Washington State’s laws for youth impacted by foster care and homelessness.
Since 2001, The Mockingbird Society has successfully led advocacy efforts to achieve over two dozen legislative and policy reforms.
Increased Funding for HOPE Beds: The HOPE Act passed in 1999 with the promise that our state would fund 75 beds to provide emergency shelter and immediate safety to adolescents seeking relief from the trauma and despair that results from surviving on the streets. The young people we work with identified the urgent need for more of these resources -- until now there have been only 23 beds across the state and these beds have not been available in many communities where there are high rates of youth homelessness. We asked legislators to increase the number of HOPE Beds statewide, and they responded by doubling the number our state currently operates!
Budget Impact: The final budget included $1,028,000 for 23 additional HOPE Beds, which means that providers can offer an additional 8,395 nights of shelter for young people each year.
Increased Funding for Street Youth Services (SYS): The SYS program provides outreach to identify and engage youth under 18 who are living on the street and helps connect them with community resources. SYS can refer youth to family-focused services, drug and alcohol abuse intervention, counseling, emergency housing, prevention and education activities, employment skill building, advocacy, and follow-up support, in addition to HOPE Beds.
Budget Impact: We asked legislators to increase the funding for SYS, and they responded! The final budget included an $800,000 increase over the current 2016 fiscal year allocation ($511,000). This means that the SYS program will be able to allocate $1,311,000 to service providers who do this critical work.
Evaluation of the Mockingbird Family Model (MFM): As our supporters know, the MFM is an innovative model for foster care delivery. In every MFM "Constellation," six to ten licensed foster families live in close proximity to a veteran foster care family -- a Hub Home -- that provides peer support, social activities, planned and unplanned respite or crisis care, and assistance in navigating child welfare systems. The MFM succeeds on multiple levels -- safer, more stable placements for youth, and better retention of foster families. This year, we asked legislators to fund an evaluation of the MFM, and they prioritized our request!
Budget Impact: The final budget included $150,000 for a one-time evaluation on the impact and cost effectiveness of the Hub Home model. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy will evaluate the MFM's effect on child safety, permanency, placement stability, and caregiver retention, among other outcomes. They will also include an analysis of whether the model yields long-term cost savings in comparison with traditional foster care. If the evaluation shows positive results, the MFM could be expanded to address our state's shortage of foster care placements!
Extended Foster Care (SB 5740): Starting July 1, 2016, young people who are unable to work, go to school, or participate in a program designed to reduce barriers to employment because they have a documented medical condition will be eligible for EFC. This bill completes Mockingbird's nearly decade-long effort to ensure young adults aging out of Washington's foster care system at age 18 can avoid homelessness and transition into adulthood with support. Senate Bill 5740, sponsored by Senator Joe Fain, passed with impressive bipartisan support. Representative Tina Orwall sponsored the companion bill (House Bill 1735).
Budget Impact: The final budget allocated $1.192 million for the 2015-17 biennium to ensure that youth with a documented medical condition can participate in EFC. In addition, the Legislature provided $1.077 million to support young people who are eligible under last year's EFC expansion (youth who are working 80 or more hours per month).
Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act (SB 5404): The HYPP Act, which was introduced by Executive Request of Governor Inslee and sponsored by Senator Steve O'Ban, received strong bipartisan support as it passed through the Legislature. The Washington Coalition for Homeless Youth Advocacy (WACHYA) led advocacy efforts for the HYPP Act. The Governor's office provided incredible leadership and support, and First Lady Trudi Inslee testified at several public hearings. Representative Ruth Kagi sponsored the companion bill (House Bill 1436).
Budget Impact: The final budget allocated funding ($867,000 for the 2015-17 biennium) to establish a statewide Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Programs (HYPP Office) in the Department of Commerce.
Medication Management for Foster Youth (HB 1879): House Bill 1879, regarding managed healthcare for foster children, addresses a critical need for reform long-identified by the young people in our Mockingbird Youth Network – the overmedication of foster children and youth. The bill became effective July 24, 2015. Among other things, the bill: directs the Health Care Authority (HCA) to seek proposals to establish an integrated managed health and behavioral health plan for foster children enrolled in Medicaid; requires the HCA to get a second opinion by a psychiatrist for any prescriptions of antipsychotic medications for all children, regardless of age and the number of prescriptions; and allows 30 days of a prescription to be dispensed pending the second opinion review, which would include discussion of any other recommendations to address a child's behavioral issues.
Mockingbird Family Model Funding: As our supporters know, The Mockingbird Family Model is an innovative foster care delivery model. It establishes "constellations" of six to ten foster families who live in close proximity to a veteran foster care family, which we call Hub Homes. Each Hub Home provides assistance in navigating the child welfare system, peer support, social activities, and respite care. In 2015 we asked the Legislature to allocate funding to support existing Hub Homes operated by Children's Administration. The final budget included $506,000 for the 2015-17 biennium that will go directly to support the eight existing Hub Home families.
Extended Foster Care (HB 2335): Expands the Extended Foster Care Program to allow youth working 80 hours per month or more to remain in care until age 21. Now, our young people aging out of care will no longer have to chose between a job and housing. By allowing foster youth to remain in care while working, we give them the opportunity to build the financial foundation necessary to successfully transition to adulthood. With this legislation, only one population remains ineligible for Extended Foster Care: foster youth with documented medical conditions.
Prudent Parent Standard (SB 6479): A Mockingbird Youth Network priority inspired by the Foster Youth and Alumni Leadership Summit, the Prudent Parent Standard allows foster parents to make decisions related to normal childhood activities. These activities include field trips, extracurricular activities, overnight stays and other activities often taken for granted by intact families. Before the Prudent Parent Standard, youth would have to go through lengthy approval processes in order to participate in these activities, often creating insurmountable barriers. This is a common-sense solution that will help bring normalcy to the lives of our youth in foster care.
Legal Representation for Foster Youth (SB 6126): For youth in care, having an attorney in court means having a voice for their needs. With this legislation, six months after a youth in care becomes "legally free" (meaning their birthparents' rights have been terminated) they will automatically have an attorney appointed. Having a voice in court can help keep them in safe placements, in their original school and on a faster path to permanency.
Youth Opportunities Act (HB 1651): The Youth Opportunities Act allows certain juvinile criminal records to be automatically sealed once a youth turns 18, eliminating a critical barrier to housing, education and employment.
Extended Foster Care (SB 5405): Expands the Extended Foster Care program to allow youth participating in programs or activities that reduce barriers to employment to remain in care until age 21, giving them the safe housing they need to successfully transition to adulthood. This greatly increases the number of eligible youth for this effective and critical program, moving us closer to achieving The Mockingbird Society's legacy goal to ensure that all youth aging out of care have access to safe housing.
Sibling Visits (SB 5389): Visits between siblings in foster care can no longer be restricted as a form of punishment or behavior control. Any restriction of visits must first be approved by the social worker's supervisor.
72-Hour Notification for Homeless Youth Shelters (SB 5147): Homeless youth shelters now have the flexibility they need to effectively serve youth-in-crisis and safely reunite them with their families. Previously, shelters were required to notify the parent/guardian of a runaway youth within 8-hours, which often resulted in youth running away from the shelter and into the hands of predators. Now shelters have up to 72-hours, allowing them to ensure youth stay safe and sheltered while shelter staff work to resolve the situation. This legislation received broad support in the legislature and was the first bill ever signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee.
Extended Foster Care (HB 2592): Foster youth in Washington state who wish to pursue their college or vocational education now have the opportunity to stay in care until age 21.This is represents a significant step towards achieving The Mockingbird Society's legacy goal of ensuring all youth aging out have access to safe housing until age 21.
Homeless Housing Assistance (HB 2048): By increasing the document recording fee, the Home Security Fund will receive approximately $4.4 million in additional funding over the next year. The Home Security Fund provides crucial resources for important safe housing programs, including the Independent Youth Housing Program (IYHP) and HOPE Centers.
Street Youth Programs: These programs provide important on-the-ground outreach services for street dependent youth, ensuring that they are connected with and have access to the supports necessary to get off the streets and on the road to stability. This funding, targeted for elimination early in the 2012 legislative session, was restored in full in the final budget.
Responsible Living Skills Program (RLSP): RLSP provides shelter and support services for adolescent youth at risk of becoming homeless. Services include short-term shelter, education programs and life skills trainings. Initiall targeted for a 34% cut early in the 2012 legislative session, funding was restored in full in the final budget.
Office of the Family & Children's Ombudsman (OFCO): The "watchdog" of the child welfare system, OFCO provides critical investigative oversight of the various programs and services meant to serve Washington's most vulnerable children, youth and families. OFCO was initially targeted for a 28% reduction in funding early in the 2012 legislative session, all but 5% of the cut was restored in the final budget.
Extended Foster Care (HB 1128): Foster youth in Washington state working to achieve their high school diploma or GED now have the opportunity to stay in care until age 21.This is an important step towards providing extended care for all foster youth because it allows the state to opt-in to the federal Fostering Connections Act, which provides matching funds for extended care initiatives like HB 1128.
Unannounced Visits (HB 1697): The new law requires that 10% of all children/youth will be chosen to experience at least one unannounced visit per year to help ensure the highest quality of care. Unannounced visits are a system best practice adopted by many states across the country.
Independent Youth Housing Program (IYHP): $1.8 Million in Budget. This program provides rental assistance and case management for youth aging out of the foster care system, helping them successfully transition into adulthood.
Street Youth Programs: $1.7 Million in Budget; HOPE Beds Funded. After being excluded from initial budget proposals, funding was maintained for these critical programs, which serve as a safety net for homeless youth, helping them find shelter and avoid entering the criminal justice system.
Children's Administration: $124 million per Year in Budget. The final budget included $124 million per year which is about $7 million more than initial budget proposals.
Safe Housing and Support for Youth in Care (SB 6444): Hope Beds and Responsible Livings Skills Program.
Notification of the Right to Request Counsel (HB 2735): Ensures youth involved in dependency proceedings
Vesting Youth or Alumni of Foster Care with Full Voting Rights on the Transformation Design Committee (SB 6832): A System-wide Reform Initiative
Subsidized Guardianships (HB 2680): Provide Support to Kinship Families
Expanding Sealing Juvenile Records (SB 6561)
8-Hour Notification Expanded in Certain Cases (HB 2752)
Fostering Connections, formerly Foster Care to 21 (HB 1961): Allows 50 foster youth per year to stay in their foster home after turning age 18 if they are enrolled in higher education.
Independent Youth Housing Program (HB 1492): Provides housing to youth who turn 18 and age out of foster care.
Consideration of Post-Adoption Sibling Visits (HB 1938): Ensures consideration of post-adoption contact between siblings in adoption proceedings.
Notification of Rights for Youth in Foster Care (SB 5758): Ensures youth in foster care are aware of and understand their rights.
Increase access to HOPE beds and the Responsible Living Skills Program by expanding eligibility criteria so as to serve more youth. The HOPE Act brought forth two services not previously available to youth: Hope Centers (30 day emergency care) and Responsible Livings Skills Program (long term care for older adolescents). HOPE Centers are the only service within Washington's Child Welfare System that youth (legally dependent or not) can self-refer to.
Increase the Housing Trust Fund to $200 million per biennium.
Increase funding to the Transitional Housing, Operating and Rent Program (THOR) to 10 million per biennium and expand eligibility to include youth and young adults including those with no experience in foster care.
Extending Medicaid to Foster Youth to Age 21 (HB 1201) ensures all foster youth aging out of care receive medical benefits until the age of 21.
Creating an Independent Youth Housing Program (HB 1922) provides vouchers to youth exiting foster care to assist with housing.
The Foster Youth Achievement Act (HB 2002) allows youth to remain in foster care and receive health care while in college.
Reprioritizing Adolescents in Child Protective Services (SB 5583)ensures that Child Protective Services will investigate abuse complaints based on risk to victim, not age of victim.
Sealing Juvenile Records (HB 3078) ensures community protection and safety while allowing youth with prior convictions to secure housing and employment opportunities.