Success and Impact

Lawsuit Spurs Washington to Address Dangerous, Unstable Placements and Pushes to Strengthen Reunification Supports for Foster Youth

Young person and their parent at the sink doing dishes

The National Center for Youth Law, through litigation, is working to transform the foster care system in Washington state and improve placement options and services that support family preservation and reunification for foster youth with disabilities.

NCYL is among co-counsel representing foster youth in a class-action suit — D.S. v. DCYF — that alleges the Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) has violated the rights of foster children by depriving them of safe and stable placements, as well as the services and supports they need to stay or reunify with their families.. While removed from their families and communities, the plaintiffs endured multiple days, weeks, or months when they were denied placements and were instead shuttled between motels, one-night foster care stays, and DCYF offices.

This harmful shuttling practice, known as “exceptional placements” or one-night stays, results from DCYF’s lack of a system to ensure stable placements in safe and supportive home environments, preferably with family.

In the suit, the plaintiffs call on DCYF to establish system-wide changes, including addressing the lack of family reunification-focused services and supports; ending the shameful practice of placing foster children in hotels, state offices, and other harmful temporary stays; instituting a process for providing an individualized needs assessment to all children subjected to these harmful placement practices; and developing an adequate array of placements to ensure that children with disabilities receive foster care services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

Court takes action

A 2021 court order compelled the state to take the first steps toward the needed changes by curbing Washington’s dangerous exceptional placement practices.  
Among the reforms outlined in the order: The state developed a plan to terminate hotel and office stays for youth; foster youth can no longer spend nights in vehicles; and foster youth must be placed in state offices only as a last resort and be provided with bedding, age-appropriate activities, and healthy food. Any incidents of foster youth staying in hotels longer than 10 consecutive days are subject to review by DCYF officials.

NCYL remains committed to building on these initial reforms to advance the rights of foster youth in Washington state. Providing safe and stable placements and family preservation- and reunification-focused services and supports to youth in foster care strengthens the long-term, reliable connections that are essential for them to grow into healthy adults.