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5 grownup heroes of foster care

Foster care's no picnic, but this collection of public policy wonks and legal activists is working to get kids in foster care the support they need.

There are hundreds of people working in Washington state’s foster care “system.” From lawmakers and lawyers to advocates, lobbyists, therapists, caseworkers, foster parents and, of course, the foster kids themselves. As part of our Kids@Risk series, we occasionally spotlight certain people whose commitment and contributions — the latter often unsung — have helped to make the state’s foster care system more responsive, more effective and way more compassionate. Here are five policymakers whose experience, perseverance and powers of persuasion are making positive change.   

 

Laurie Lippold, Public Policy Director at Partners for Our Children

Laurie Lippold grew up all over the Midwest. Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, you name it. She earned a masters degree in social work from the University of Chicago in the early 1980s and headed to Seattle shortly thereafter. Before making the move to the public policy arena, Lippold toiled in the at-risk trenches, helping pregnant teens and teen parents stay in school, foster kids face the trauma they experienced and prospective foster and adoptive parents get licensed. She detoured into the public policy arena in the early '90s, when she helped create a way for adult adoptees to get anonymized information about their biological parents.

Lippold found that she really enjoyed the process of building coalitions, and educating lawmakers and staff with the data and perspectives they needed to make informed policy decisions. Something she’s been doing now for, well, a long time. “I’m not a winer and diner,” says Lippold about her approach to making legislative change. “It’s all about what can we do to improve outcomes for the more vulnerable kinds of families we tend to focus on. I have the best shot at doing that if I have good information and have developed relationships so we can have discussions about what might work.”

Lippold’s approach has led to important changes in the areas of adoption (the confidential intermediary law she helped with was passed in the early 1990s), child welfare and public assistance. She was involved in the 2013 passage of the new statewide Family Assessment Response which, when appropriate, offers support services to help families stay together rather than removing kids from their homes.

 

Casey Trupin, Coordinator for the Children and Youth Project at Columbia Legal Services

Tikkun olam is Casey Trupin’s modus operandi. The Jewish phrase means “repairing the world,” and in his work with homeless and foster youth at Seattle’s Columbia Legal Services, Trupin has been doing his part – one at-risk kid at a time. Social justice is the Trupin family business. Both of his grandfathers were lawyers, who worked for civil and workers’ rights during the McCarthy era. The topic, particularly as it concerned young people, was nightly fodder at the Trupin dinner table. His parents — yup, both of them — are child psychologists.

So it's not surprising that Trupin dove in too, working with Seattle’s homeless kids as a college Vista volunteer. After graduating from the UW, he traveled to Latin America to see how other countries and communities handled homeless youth. When he came back to Seattle to start law school, he also helped found Street Youth Legal Advocates of Washington.

As a lead attorney in the infamous 1998 Braam foster care case, Trupin has spent 14 years trying to make the state’s foster care system safe and accountable. That effort “has started to yield some significant and important changes that had eluded the system for decades,” says Trupin. Among them, better early mental health and education screening, more frequent visits by caseworkers and lower caseloads.

There’s still a ways to go — especially when it comes to protecting the rights (and interests) of kids in foster care and the juvenile justice system. Trupin is a strong advocate for providing attorneys for foster kids, and for sealing certain juvenile records. “We think holding all their records open to the public for an eternity will somehow make us safer,” he says. In fact, it sentences youthful offenders to a lifetime of trouble finding jobs and apartments, necessities that make their lives successful and “are critical for our economy and our safety.”


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