Stop Severing Incarcerated Parents from their Children! Take action to support SHB 1284 today!

Incarcerated parents and their children need a more fair chance to work toward reunification and safe permanency options that don't involve severing family ties forever!

On April 22, the Washington State legislature – by a near unanimous vote – passed SHB 1284 that guides the courts’ current discretion to delay termination of parental rights if the parent’s incarceration or prior incarceration is a significant factor for the child’s continued out-of-home placement, as long as the delay is in the best interest of the child.

All the bill needs to become law is the governor's signature!

Contact Governor Inslee’s office and let him know that we want SHB 1284 (Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill).

Please send a message to Governor Inslee by clicking here and also to Andi Smith, the Governor’s senior policy advisor at

Sample message:

Please sign into law SHB 1284 (the Children of Incarcerated Parents bill), which guides the courts’ current discretion to delay termination of parental rights if the parent’s incarceration or prior incarceration is a significant factor for the child’s continued out-of-home placement, as long as delay is in the best interest of the child.

Mothers don’t stop loving and caring for their children because they enter prison, as they over-come addiction, or as they survive domestic violence. Unnecessarily separating families is devastating to children in foster care, their incarcerated parents, and our communities.

Keeping families together keeps our communities safer and more supported as family reunification is linked to reduced recidivism, greater family stability and improved emotional response for children.

Background on SHB 1284 and ASFA's impact on families in Washington State

The 1997 federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) states that termination of parental rights proceedings must be commenced by the state when a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the past 22 months. There are three exceptions to this requirement:

  • 1. The child is in the care of a relative.
  • 2. The agency has documented a compelling reason why filing a termination petition would not be in the best interests of the child;
  • 3. Or the agency has not provided the child with the necessary reunification services.

Because of barriers to accessing visits with their children, social services, and legal representation, families who are involved in the criminal justice system suffer from a lack of sufficient guidance in our current child welfare laws. This bill will enhance the prospects for long-lasting permanency for children in out-of-home care, as it will provide courts guidance to better assess the barriers and challenges facing incarcerated parents, such as limited access to family support programs, therapeutic services, and visiting opportunities. However, it will not prevent the state from stepping in when necessary to terminate parental rights in order to provide children with safe, stable and permanent adoptive homes. What is in the best interest of the child remains of the utmost importance.

Under ASFA, Washington State requires the court to order the department or supervising agency to file a petition seeking termination of parental rights if the child has been in out-of-home care for fifteen of the last twenty-two months since the date the dependency petition was filed unless the court makes a good cause exception as to why the filing of a termination of parental rights petition is not appropriate. The “good cause exception” includes but is not limited to the following:

  • The child is being cared for by a relative;
  • the department has not provided to the child's family such services as the court and the department have deemed necessary for the child's safe return home;
  • or the department has documented in the case plan a compelling reason for determining that filing a petition to terminate parental rights would not be in the child's best interests.

Unintended Consequences of ASFA

The exceptions enacted under WA law fail to help criminal justice involved families. Incarcerated parents’ cases have unique circumstances, permanency planning challenges, difficult timeframes (sentences are often longer than 15 out of 22 months), and are frequently more labor-intensive and time consuming than cases involving parents in the community. Therefore, Washington’s interpretation of ASFA often tips the scale toward termination in these cases, even when not necessarily in the long-term best interest of the child and family, the result is devastating to children in foster care and their incarcerated parents. In response to similar barriers, in 2010 New York expanded its ASFA laws to include incarceration, prior incarceration or participation in a residential substance abuse treatment program as a reason for delay where a parent maintains a meaningful role in the child’s life.

Let's help make sure that incarcerated parents and their children get the same chance! Contact Governor Inslee today!