Helping Washington’s foster children is a year-round labor of love

May was National Foster Care Month, and it’s prompted me to reflect on my experiences with the child welfare system that is charged with protecting thousands of Washington’s most vulnerable children.

May was National Foster Care Month, and it’s prompted me to reflect on my experiences with the child welfare system that is charged with protecting thousands of Washington’s most vulnerable children.

Growing up the youngest of seven kids in a struggling, working-class family in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, money was in short supply, but we always had room for another child, be it a cousin, nephew, niece, new family member or neighborhood youngster. The motto was: “We take care of children.”

In my 20s, before I had my own children, I became a foster parent. I took in 10 teenagers. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Those teens filled our home and hearts with love and joy. I’m proud to say they are now productive, responsible adults. Some of them have children of their own.

Over 8,000 children and youth, through no fault of their own, are in Washington’s foster-care system ─ nationwide, the count is nearly 500,000. At the state level, we are always looking for ways to better protect children and give them a chance at becoming productive, successful adults. We provide training and guidance for foster parents and comprehensive support for foster children whether they are in the court room or “aging out” of the system. Over the last several years we’ve extended health care coverage for foster youth until age 21. We’ve given the Department of Social and Health Services the authority to work with children aged 18 or older in foster care that are in community college or other post-secondary education programs for up to three years, and passed legislation requiring courts to consider the well-being of siblings separated by adoption when planning for permanent placement.

We have also improved the manner in which the school records of foster children are managed between school districts, and in 2007 I sponsored legislation ─ Senate Bill 5830 ─ to establish evidence-based and research-based home-visitation programs for parents to hone parenting skills and improve outcomes for children.

Public policy alone does not make for an effective system. The real heroes are the people who have made the commitment to take in children during hard times, and for that we applaud you. Thank you, foster and relative care givers, for opening your homes and your hearts to children and youth throughout this state.

You complement the Legislature’s efforts to lessen the impacts of difficult times and provide stability and support for families and children so that barriers that keep them are apart are removed.

We need more people to become foster or adoptive parents. National Foster Care Month is a great time to begin the process. You can start by contacting the Statewide Foster Parent Recruitment Information Center at 1-888-KIDS-414 (1-888-543-7414). Washington’s children are waiting.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact
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