OLYMPIA – Legislation signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee will help kids in foster care stay with family members and in their communities where possible.

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

Help for kinship caregivers

Consistent with the state’s goal of enabling family reunification wherever possible within the foster care system, SB 5151 allows DCYF to issue a child-specific license to a relative or other suitable person to provide foster care. This will help the state Department of Children, Youth & Families 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, giving them access to more resources and assistance.

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

“This bill has been 40 years in the making,” said Sakara Remmu, lead strategist of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance. “It’s about the whole of Black life. Giving relatives a chance to care for their family members maintains connection, culture and community.”

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.

“For every child in formal foster care, there are 11 being raised by grandparents outside the system. Those caregivers deserve the licensing and resources they need to keep Black and Brown families together,” Remmu said. “Black families matter—and providing the support to keep Black families together matters. It’s good for families, it’s good for our communities, and it’s good for Washington state.”

Support for childcare providers

SB 5151 also eliminates license fees for childcare providers through 2023, providing direct and immediate assistance to an industry that was in crisis even before it was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Access to affordable childcare is critical for our state’s economic recovery,” said Wilson. “Steps like this encourage new and returning providers to enter the industry so parents can get back to work.”

Outdoor, nature-based early learning and childcare

In addition, SB 5151 establishes a program for permanent outdoor, nature-based early learning and childcare. Quality outdoor early education and childcare provide proven academic and mental health benefits for children. However, studies show that outdoor pre-schools across the country disproportionately serve white, middle-class households. The expanded licensing for outdoor early learning and childcare means more children across the state will have 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 furthers our efforts to address inequities in access to education and the outdoors.”