by Lauryn Bray
In April, three child advocacy organizations released a new report outlining progress made toward accomplishing goals introduced with Washington State’s 2018 passage of Substitute Senate Bill (SSB) 6560, which states that “beginning January 1, 2021, any unaccompanied youth discharged from a publicly funded system of care in [Washington State] will be discharged into safe and stable housing.” The report is the product of a collaborative effort between the Center for Children & Youth Justice (CCYJ), the Legal Counsel for Youth and Children (LCYC), and TeamChild, and it puts forth recommendations for successful compliance with SSB 6560.
“[The report] was really a collaborative approach,” said Karen Pillar, director of policy and advocacy for TeamChild. “It took different areas of substantive interest, but it was really a collaborative process of editing, revising, gathering information, and talking directly to agencies.”
TeamChild is a youth advocacy organization that services youth involved, or at risk of being involved, in the juvenile justice system. The organization provides legal services, training, and consulting, and it advocates for the implementation of policy to combat current systemic practices that hold back youth. The other collaborators, LCYC and CCYJ, also center youth in their missions to reform the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. LCYC does this by providing legal services for youth in four main areas: child welfare, juvenile court, immigrant youth and families, and youth homelessness. And, according to its website, CCYJ moves toward systemic change by identifying solutions through interaction with youth and families, data, and policy.
SSB 6560’s goal of placing every child discharged from a State facility in stable housing has yet to be met. In their collaborative report, titled “Progress Report: Substitute Senate Bill 6560,” the three organizations attempt to acknowledge and identify effective strategies that can bring Washington State closer to achieving this goal.
“It’s a combination of [providing] behavioral health support — which might look different for every youth and family, [whether it] be individual counseling, family counseling, mediation — and then another leg of the three-legged stool is housing navigation,” explained Erin McCann, director of policy and systemic advocacy at LCYC. “What is the housing situation of the youth of the family? How can this collaborative of agencies work with the youth and family to address housing issues?”
McCann says the third leg of the stool is legal services, and that’s where LCYC comes in. If a child wants to request an emancipation petition or needs a services petition, LCYC is one of the organizations connecting youth to those services.
The report references the approach introduced in “Improving Stability for Youth Exiting Systems of Care,” a 2020 report from the Washington State Department of Commerce. “Improving Stability” found that youth released from the criminal justice system were the most likely group of youth to experience homelessness within 12 months of release, and it included recommendations designed to prevent youth from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
The 2023 report expands on the strategies introduced in “Improving Stability” and also provides new recommendations for planning and prevention. It discusses planning primarily in terms of investment and infrastructure, suggesting that there need to be initiatives that invest financial resources “to support collective, cross-system planning and implementation work at both the state and at the local/regional levels.” And its recommendations for prevention are twofold: It discusses the prevention of youth entry into systems of care, advocating for the development of intervention strategies designed for youth whose housing instability or conflict with guardians could lead them to entering systems of care, as well as the prevention of youth exit from systems of care without legal aid or housing.
Pillar is pleased to be moving away from what she sees as harmful strategies for supporting youth facing housing instability. “We’re in a shift mode, certainly in our state, from having fairly rigid statewide systems of response — we’ve used the juvenile legal system to respond when there’s behavioral problems, we’ve used child welfare when there’s family problems, and it’s deeply problematic,” said Pillar. “I think we’re trying to move to a place where [we devise] a response system that’s really fluid and nuanced for wherever you are.”
While Pillar says the goal is to get youth off the streets entirely, Nicholas Oakley, director of policy, strategy, and alignment at CCYJ, argues that for some kids, the streets feel safer than shelters or detention centers. “My work has primarily been with LGBTQ+ young people, as well as young people in the sex trade, often who identify as queer. So I would say that many of the young people we talked to in our research said the streets are better than detention because of the way they were treated,” explained Oakley.
All three organizations agree on the primary goal of removing the carceral system as a middleman for youth to get connected to social services.
“It’s bonkers that we needed this bill in the first place when we should be putting our investments, time, and resources on a much more front end so that youth don’t have to go to juvenile court or child welfare to get housing services or financial support or family therapy,” said McCann. “[For these] systems, [their] involvement should be, how can we help versus how can we bring you in deeper?”
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 07/12/2023 to correct a typographical error.
Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.
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