OLYMPIA Legislation passed today by the Senate would help kids in foster care to stay with family members and in their communities where possible.

Senate Bill 5151, sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), would also waive licensing fees for childcare providers until 2023 and would make permanent a pilot program for outdoor, nature-based early learning.

Help for kinship caregivers

Family reunification – wherever possible – is the ultimate goal of our foster care system. SB 5151 would allow DCYF to issue a child-specific license to a relative or other suitable person to provide foster care, which would help keep children with relatives and in their own communities while separated from their parents.

Kinship caregivers, such as grandparents who care for grandkids, have been requesting additional resources and support for years. With child-specific foster care licenses available, more caregivers are likely to acquire a foster care license, which would allow access to more resources and assistance. Compared to children in non-relative care, those in the care of relatives experience more stability and safety, have better behavioral and mental health outcomes, are more likely to stay with siblings, and can better preserve their cultural identity and community connections.

“This issue is more urgent than ever in light of the tremendous struggle Washingtonians are facing to make ends meet during this historic crisis,” said Wilson. “This bill would help support those who have stepped up to support and care for kids who might otherwise become part of the regular foster care system, and hopefully will encourage more potential kindship caregivers to come forward to care for more kids.”

Support for childcare providers

SB 5151 would also eliminate license fees for childcare providers through 2023. This would provide a direct and immediate way for the state to provide assistance to an industry that was in crisis even before it was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our state’s economic recovery cannot occur without access to affordable childcare,” said Wilson. “We need to take steps like this to encourage new and returning providers to enter the industry so parents can get back to work.”

Outdoor, nature-based early learning and childcare

SB 5151 would make permanent an outdoor, nature-based early learning and childcare pilot program that is set to expire on June 30. Quality outdoor early education and childcare provide proven academic and mental health benefits for children. Studies show, however, that outdoor pre-schools across the country serve a disproportionate number of white, middle-class households. Expanding licensing for outdoor early learning and childcare would enable more children across the state to access this valuable learning opportunity.

“Washington state has been a leader in expanding access to nature-based programs through licensing and subsidies for low-income families,” said Wilson. “This bill will continue our role in addressing inequities in access to education and the outdoors.”

The bill will now be considered by the House of Representatives.