Mothers’ Dilemma Eased

The Washington Legislature has amended RCW 13.34‘s shelter care provisions to prohibit a court’s removing a child from a parent’s care solely because the parent is uncertain whether allegations that the child has been abused are true. Likewise, the new law prohibits barring the child’s placement with another relative solely because the relative is uncertain.

This change addresses a recurring problem for parents—commonly mothers—of children said to have been abused: the fear that one will be considered an unfit parent unless one agrees that the child has been abused by one’s spouse or domestic partner.

ESSB 6792 amended the RCW 13.34.065 shelter care hearing factors a court must take into consideration when deciding whether to remove a child from parental custody. The new provision reads:

Uncertainty by a parent, guardian, legal custodian, relative, or other suitable person that the alleged abuser has in fact abused the child shall not, alone, be the basis upon which a child is removed from the care of a parent, guardian, or legal custodian under of this subsection, nor shall it be a basis, alone, to preclude placement with a relative under (b) of this subsection or with another suitable person under (d) of this subsection. Also in ESSB 6792, the legislature established a pilot program designed to facilitate greater participation by children in dependency hearings.

The program will run in Thurston, Spokane, King, Benton, and Franklin counties. Children who are at least twelve will have the rights to:

  • Receive notice of all dependency proceedings and hearings
  • Be present at the hearings
  • Be heard personally

At the request of the child’s guardian ad litem or attorney, or at the judge’s initiative, the judge may interview the child in chambers about his or her wishes. The child’s guardian ad litem and his or her attorney must determine before each hearing whether the child wants to attend it. The court cannot deny or limit the child’s access to the hearings unless the court makes a specific written finding that access would be against the child’s best interest and that denying access is necessary for the health, welfare and safety of the child.

The pilot program will operate until June 30, 2010, though the Department of Social and Health Services will submit a briefing to the legislature about the program’s effectiveness in January 2009.

Both these provisions become law June 12th.