On May 8, 2013, Washington State governor Jay Inslee signed SHB1284, or the Children of Incarcerated Parents bill, into law. The law guides the courts' discretion to delay the termination of parental rights if the parent's incarceration or prior incarceration is a significant factor for the child's continued stay in the foster care system, reported Truth-out.org.
The Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act and Its Impact
In 1997, Congress passed the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, stating that its intention was to address the number of children who seemed to linger in foster care and help these children find safe and permanent homes. However, the Act did not take into consideration the dramatic increase in incarceration, particularly for drug law violations. When ASFA was passed, only Nebraska and New Mexico excluded incarcerated parents from ASFA's time frame if the only reason to file for termination is because of parental incarceration.
ASFA's impact has been profound. Nationally, the number of children in foster care with living parents who have had their rights terminated increased from 60,000 in 1998 to 73,000 in 2000. A 2003 study found that termination proceedings involving incarcerated parents increased nationwide from 260 in 1997 to 909 in 2002. In contrast, in the five years preceding ASFA, the number of termination proceedings increased from 113 in 1992 to 142 in 1996.
In Washington State in 2013, according to the Children Defense Fund's statistics, the number of children in foster care in the state is 9,533. The number of children adopted from foster care is 1,583. The report does not state how many children are in foster care because of parental incarceration, how many are eligible for adoption or how many youth age out of foster care.
In 2009, the state's Children of Incarcerated Parents Advisory Committee recommended that the legislature consider a law to address ASFA's timeline. No such law was considered. Once the committee lost its funding, no further meetings were held to discuss the issue.
SHB1284, or the Children of Incarcerated Parents bill, guides the courts' discretion to delay the termination of parental rights if the parent's incarceration or prior incarceration is a significant factor for the child's continued stay in the foster care system. It does not absolve incarcerated parents from doing their utmost to participate in their children's lives.
Terminating parental rights does not ensure that foster children will be adopted into permanent homes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that, at the end of 2011, more than 104,000 children in foster care were waiting for an adoptive family. The average age of a child awaiting adoption was eight years old and the average length of time was two years. Approximately 35% had been in foster care for over three years. The same report found that in 2011, only 50,516 foster children had been adopted - less than half the 109,456 who had been awaiting adoption the year before. And, in 2011, more than 26,000 youth aged out of foster care without a permanent family. The report did not distinguish between youth in foster care because of parental incarceration and those in care for other reasons.
To read more: http://truth-out.org/news/item/16312-new-law-gives-parents-behind-bars-in-washington-state-a-way-to-hold-onto-their-children