The State Capitol sees all manner of rallies and protests when the legislature is in session.  Everybody has a cause or an issue that needs attention.  But perhaps none are as legitimate as the rally taking place this Wednesday when Foster Parents and Advocates from all over the state descend on Olympia to rally for hope, help and change on behalf of the state’s most vulnerable children.

In October of 2016 Public Television station KCTS in Seattle published a story on line about the crises in Foster Care – “Over the course of four years, foster parent Veronica Moody of Kirkland took in babies and children with severe challenges, including drug exposure, extreme tantrums and nightmares, head-banging and third-degree burns.  But that wasn’t the really hard part of the job, the part that drove away Moody and her husband Chris from accepting more kids.

It was Washington State’s dysfunctional foster care system.  “All the problems the state causes, due to lack of resources and lack of training, make our job as foster parents very difficult,” Moody says. “It burns you out.”

The article put together by Investigate West  shows the troubling decline in numbers, “the state lost nearly one in five foster homes between 2008 and 2015 as families quit and potential recruits couldn’t be persuaded to sign up. Only 102 of the 1,100 homes that got licensed in 2005 were still accepting kids a decade later. The number of available homes plummeted to about 4,600 last year ― more than 1,000 below the typical level.”

The reasons for this level of decline are many but perhaps most telling is the fact that Foster Parents don’t want to go on record for fear of reprisal by the state.  The state’s partner in providing care for kids is afraid of the state -- Something needs to be done.

Is the new Department of Children,  Youth and Family Services the answer?  Time will tell if it is just a reorganization of the old system or if there is a new understanding of the problems that led to the current shortage and a commitment to make the required changes that will support and encourage families with a heart for service to join the ranks of foster parents.

Jessica Hanna, President of Fostering Change Washington says, “There are so many passionate voices for children in foster care. Right now those voices are not coordinated, resulting in stalled change. We want to unify our voice- bringing together biological families, relative and kin families, as well as foster families to rally together…We want to prevent the emotional turmoil that disruption of long term placement causes children in dependency cases.

The KCTS report points out the need to follow an established guideline for placing kids with some foster parents raising and bonding with babies as they grow into toddles  “some for as long as two and a half years, before the children were eventually placed with a birth parent or relative they’d never lived with before. That lengthy limbo is a common occurrence in Washington, despite federal mandates for states to move to terminate birth parents’ rights and work to find permanent homes for children once they’ve been in foster care for 15 out of 22 months. About a quarter of the children in foster care in 2013 were in the system for at least 30 months, according to data from Partners for Our Children, a joint research effort by DSHS and the University of Washington.”

Organizer Shannon Love of Fostering Change says the rally represents the collective voice of foster parents and caregivers across the state who are impacted by the foster care system and are passionate about systemic reform.  They hope to unify the fostering community into one voice and then speak with Legislators, sharing personal stories that highlight the impact the foster care system has on children in our communities.

Monday at 8:10 on the Morning News, we’ll talk with representatives from Fostering Change about the rally and what we can do as a community to ensure all kids have a loving and stable home and fair chance at a future in Washington State.