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Originally published Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Foster children need timely legal protection

Washington is one of the few states in the country that does not provide foster kids with a court-appointed attorney. Senate Bill 6126 would remedy this problem and help children understand their legal rights.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WASHINGTON state is not doing what it should to protect the legal rights of the nearly 10,000 foster children in its care.

First Star, a nonprofit advocating for abused and neglected children nationwide, gives the state an F and ranks it 48th in the nation in its latest report card. The rating is based partly on the fact that most counties do not require courts to appoint attorneys to represent children in dependency cases.

The state Senate could help set thousands of abused and neglected youth on the right path by passing Senate Bill 6126. The bill would require that foster children be assigned legal representation 72 hours from when their parent-child relationships are terminated.

“It’s not a perfect solution, but these kids deserve basic rights,” says the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place.

Studies show that helping foster kids navigate the system as soon as they enter it is likely to keep them out of trouble and save the state money in the long run. Attorneys can help shorten a child’s time in care and improve his or her chance of finding a permanent home. Right now, some children are bounced around as many as 30 homes while in the state’s care, which can lead to behavioral problems.

Sharonta Pickering, a student from Federal Way, testified before the state Senate’s Human Services & Corrections Committee on Jan. 20 about feeling “trapped, alone and scared” when she first set foot in court as a dependent of the state.

Things changed after the court assigned her an attorney.

“It was like my voice was being heard by the adults in the room,” she said.

Pickering told her lawyer she wanted to live with her mother. The judge granted the request over the state’s objections. Now a high-school junior, Pickering is home, doing well in school and plans to attend college.

Because of kids like her, the state Senate should send SB 6126 to the other side of the Capitol.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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