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Agreement Reached to Extend Braam Foster Care Reform Effort in Washington State

Foster children will continue to benefit from the re-negotiated final settlement agreement between the Department of Social and Health Services and legal counsel for the Braam Plaintiffs. The revised agreement was filed Oct. 31, 2011, and will be effective for 26 months, through December 31, 2013. Under the agreement, the Braam Oversight Panel will continue monitoring the Department’s progress through 2012.

The original Braam settlement agreement was reached in 2004 to avoid continued litigation, after the Washington State Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for a new trial. Before sending the case back to the trial court, the Supreme Court held in a landmark decision that foster children have significant constitutional rights. The agreement reached in 2004 was scheduled to end on July 31, 2011, but the parties began negotiating a revised agreement since many outcomes had still not been met. The parties first agreed to a three-month extension to Oct. 31, 2011 to allow the parties sufficient time to conclude the re-negotiation process.

The key principles guiding the parties during negotiations included: the measures should be objective, those measures should be achievable by the Department, and state resources should be used efficiently and effectively.

The re-negotiated settlement and exit agreement acknowledges that “significant progress and improvements have been made to Washington’s child welfare system since 2004,” and attributes the progress to the commitment of Department staff, the Governor, the Legislature, the leadership of DSHS and Children’s Administration, and community stakeholders. The agreement also acknowledges the progress made, and the Department’s need to meet key outcomes that have not yet been met.

“The Department has made significant improvements in a number of areas that the Braam Plaintiffs have been concerned about since this litigation was originally filed. However, we still have areas of the foster care system where there is a long way to go,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Erin Shea McCann of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle. “For example, although the Department has improved its performance regarding the number of children who see their caseworker over the course of a month for a health and safety visit, the Department needs to ensure that 90 percent of children see their caseworker each and every month out of the year.”

Columbia Legal Services is co-counsel in the case along with Bill Grimm at NCYL and private attorney Tim Farris.

Under the re-negotiated agreement, the Department now has 21 enforceable outcomes to achieve, down from 33 in the original agreement. For example, the Department must continue to improve the system so that foster children remain in stable placements and siblings are placed together when possible and, when they cannot be placed together, that they have frequent visits and contacts.

To view the revised settlement and exit agreement, go to: http://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/about/imp_settlement.asp

For more information about the case, click here.

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