Governor Inslee and the Washington state legislature have taken an important step toward a more just and humane juvenile justice system for our state’s youth and families.
In the wee hours of the last night of legislative session, lawmakers narrowly passed a plan to phase out the practice of incarcerating youth who commit “status offenses,” such as running away or skipping school. Our state owes this victory to the tenacious campaigning and deep expertise of youth advocates from organizations like the Mockingbird Society and YouthCare, along with other dedicated Raikes Foundation grantees like A Way Home Washington, TeamChild, Legal Counsel for Youth and Children and Columbia Legal Services, as well as legislators like Sen. Jeannie Darneille and Rep. Noel Frame.
For decades, our state has chosen to lock up youth who engage in what is often a response to trauma in their lives. In those same decades, overwhelming amounts of research on trauma, brain development and punishment have made clear that incarcerating youth for these “status offenses” only deepens their trauma and makes their path to stability steeper and more fraught.
New data confirms that a record-breaking number of students experienced homelessness during the 2016-17 school year. The number of students who experience homelessness each year has been steadily ticking upward for more than a decade, topping out at more than 1.3 million in 2017.
Unfortunately, as the national student homelessness strategy, Education Leads Home, notes, it’s likely that these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools are ill-equipped to identify students who are experiencing homelessness, let alone connect them with housing, transportation and family support.
This week the national campaign to address student homelessness, Education Leads Home, announced that six states—California, Kentucky, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—have been chosen to participate in a first-of-its-kind partnership aimed improving educational outcomes for students who are experiencing homelessness.
Young people who do not graduate from high school are 4.5 times as likely to experience homelessness in their lives—and students who are experiencing homelessness are nearly 90 percent more likely to drop out of school than their peers. Taken together, those facts shine a light on the daunting odds that students experiencing homelessness face, as well as why education is a crucial part of any strategy to prevent and end youth homelessness. Schools are critical points of connection for students and families—connections that we have to utilize to ensure students are getting what they need inside and outside of the classroom.
On April 1, 2019 Katie Hong will be stepping away from her role as the Raikes Foundation’s Director of Youth Homelessness and into her new role as Director of Special Initiatives. The foundation believes it’s important to engage more deeply in our region’s worsening homelessness, and nobody is better suited to lead our work in that area than Katie (you can read more about Katie’s new role and strategy here). But despite a change in leadership, our deep dedication to end youth homelessness remains unchanged.
I’m proud to be carrying on our foundation’s longstanding commitment to young people experiencing homelessness as the new director of our youth homelessness strategy.