Is Snohomish County’s foster care system in crisis?

By Crystal Linn | Apr 18, 2014

Seven-year-old twins, Maria* and Juan arrived at school for the third day in a row, unkempt. They both wore the same clothes they had worn the prior two days.

Maria’s hair still had not been combed, and Juan’s face was dirty, again.

The school secretary tried calling every number on the children’s emergency contact list, and finally had no choice but to call CPS (Child Protective Services). Apparently, the twins’ parents were both drug addicts and had abandoned their children.

Their caseworker, Susan Smyth, spent four hours on the phone, trying to locate a home that would take both children, or at least two homes in Snohomish County.

However, all of the foster care homes in the county were full. With much sorrow, Susan sent Maria to Bellingham and Juan to Tacoma.

It would be three months before the twins would see each other again. As tragic as this story is, it is more common than not.

At any given time, there are more than 700 children in Snohomish County who are in foster care – a 10 percent jump over the year before. These numbers do not include children living with other relatives as opposed to the child’s own parent(s).

Most children in Snohomish County are removed from the home because of neglect rather than emotional, physical or sexual abuse. This neglect is usually the result of drug and alcohol abuse by the parent(s).

The county has solid programs in place to deal with this problem, yet it is not enough.

Siblings are forced to be separated, and children are being shipped to foster homes all across the state simply because there are not enough foster homes within the county.

The single largest need is for more licensed foster care homes within the county, especially ethnic homes and homes that are willing to take siblings.

There are two ways a person can be licensed as a foster parent. One is to be licensed directly by the state; the other is to be licensed by any number of private agencies.

All foster parents, regardless of how licensed, receive intensive training and support. A person who is single or a couple who live in an apartment might also qualify to be foster parents.

Housing these children locally would allow for easier visitation between child, sibling and parent(s), and could help reunite the family sooner. Keeping the children within the community would also reduce costs.

It is the goal of everyone involved to give each child within the system permanency as soon as possible. The ideal goal is reuniting the family, and if that is not possible, then a long-term care plan will be implemented.

In addition to providing quality foster care homes, Snohomish County has three additional programs in place. These are Respite Care providers, volunteer Guardian ad litem (VGAL) and Family Drug Treatment Court (Drug Court).

Respite Care providers are compassionate people who are willing to step in and give foster parents a break, for an afternoon, a weekend or a week’s vacation.

A VGAL is a volunteer who represents a child’s best interests during any court action required because of the home situation.

Drug Court provides a stronger accountability system for parents in recovery and has a good success rate for reuniting families sooner.

Maria and Juan’s story ends happily. Their parents went to rehab and Drug Court, and in a year they were completely clean. Their father found a good job, and both parents took parenting classes.

Every agency and every employee within the county is committed to helping these children and their families move forward as successfully as possible. They all need more support, and each one is most grateful for any help offered.

*Maria, Juan and Susan are fictional characters, yet this story is true and is repeated far too often.

Crystal Linn is a writing coach, an award-winning poet, and Amazon’s top-selling author of the Amish Forever books, along with her co-author Roger Rheinheimer.

Foster Care List of Resources:

Catholic Community Services

425- 374-6358

Licensing Office for Snohomish County


Hand in Hand

Todd McNeal


Lutheran Community Services Northwest


Secret Harbor


360-755-5700 x434


Kristine Morse



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