In a ruling aided by an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief from the ACLU of Washington, the Washington Supreme Court recently reiterated the State cannot take away a parent’s rights without first providing services to help the strengthen the parent-child bond. Consistent with the legally required goal of family reunification, before terminating a parent’s rights DSHS must first prove it made reasonable efforts to provide these services. In this case, In Re the Welfare of B.P., a mother’s rights had been terminated where DSHS had provided services to the foster family but not the birth mother.
In April we posted about the barriers incarcerated parents face in dependency cases. The court here noted that the obligation to provide services applies with equal force to those parents. The State cannot assume such services will fail. As noted in the ACLU of Washington’s article, the child welfare system has historically been built on the flawed premise that children are better off without their incarcerated or addicted parents. The court’s ruling is in harmony with a sounder premise that is becoming increasingly accepted – that children and parents, and thus families, are better off when the State allows them to maintain their relationship to the extent reasonably possible.