Incarcerated Parents and Child Welfare in Washington
March 17, 2020 | 95 Wash. L. Rev. 531
Abstract: From 2006 to 2016, 32,000 incarcerated parents in the United States permanently lost their parental rights without ever being accused of child abuse. Of these, approximately 5,000 lost their parental rights solely because of their incarceration. This “family separation crisis” followed on the heels of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), a federal law which directs states to initiate parental termination proceedings against parents when their children have been in foster care for fifteen of the last twenty-two months. Some states, including Washington, attempted to mitigate ASFA’s devastating impact on incarcerated parents by adding exceptions for incarceration. This Comment explores the disparate effect of ASFA on families with incarcerated parents, and examines the structure and impact of Washington State’s incarceration exception to the termination requirement. It argues that more states should adopt exceptions for incarcerated parents, that Washington’s exception should go further to protect these parents, and that, ultimately, a wide variety of non-legislative changes are necessary to protect families before and during incarceration.
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