National Center for Youth Law

Press Releases

JUDGE ORDERS WASHINGTON STATE TO END CAR AND HOTEL STAYS FOR FOSTER YOUTH

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 29, 2021

Contact: Patty Guinto, pguinto@youthlaw.org

Seattle, WA – Today, Federal Judge Barbara Rothstein of the Western District of Washington ruled that the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families must end its practice of forcing youth in foster care to sleep in unlicensed and unsafe settings, including hotels, child welfare agency offices, and even cars.

Each year, hundreds of children are subjected to these traumatic and destabilizing practices, called “placement exceptions.” Youth who spend the most nights in placement exceptions are disproportionately likely to have behavioral health and developmental disabilities. During the day, these children sit in agency offices for hours, often without access to education, healthy food, or age-appropriate activities.

In January 2021, D.S., D.Y., and H.A.—three children in DCYF custody who together have spent more than 500 nights in placement exceptions—along with Disability Rights Washington filed a class action lawsuit seeking to end placement exceptions for good and transition youth to safe and permanent homes, preferably with their own families. Plaintiffs are represented by the National Center for Youth Law, Disability Rights Washington, and Carney Gillespie PLLP.

On June 7, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion to eliminate the practice of forcing children to sleep in offices and cars and mitigate the harm to children sleeping in hotels. The Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor, stating that forcing children to sleep in cars and on the floors of offices is “unacceptable” and “has to be violative of at least one, two, or three statutes” and ordered the parties to work together to find a remedy.

Today, Judge Rothstein issued a preliminary injunction adopting the relief proposed by the parties. The order:

  • Requires DCYF to develop a plan by September 1, 2021, that will result in an end to all placement exceptions by November 1, 2021;
  • Prohibits DCYF from making children in its custody sleep in cars;
  • Prohibits DCYF from making children in its custody sleep in offices, except in emergency situations where a hotel is not available;
  • Requires DCYF to provide crisis planning and reasonable accommodations for youth in placement exceptions or spending daytime hours in offices; and
  • Requires all DCYF offices to provide healthy food, space, and staffing to support education, and age-appropriate activities to youth spending daytime hours there.

“It is unfortunate that any child welfare agency has to be ordered not to force children to sleep in cars or offices,” said Leecia Welch, senior director, Child Welfare and Legal Advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law. “But we are hopeful that the range of reforms ordered today will be an immediate improvement for children in DCYF custody and that the parties will work together on a broader array of reforms in the near future.”

“All children deserve a safe, caring environment and the supports needed to reunify with their families,” said Susan Kas, attorney, Disability Rights Washington. “This order is an important step toward creating a system of care that treats children with respect and dignity.”