Truancy /At-Risk Youth/ Child in Need of Services
In 1993, a 13-year-old runaway named Rebecca Hedman ("Becca") was murdered in Spokane, Washington, far from her home in Tacoma. A group of parents and legislators came together and successfully pushed for legislation (passed in 1995) that was designed to prevent situations like Becca's from happening again. The so-called "Becca Bill" addresses several areas of public policy, including those affecting truant, at-risk, and runaway youth.
Thurston County Family and Juvenile Court operates and manages three programs -- Truancy, At-Risk Youth, and Child in Need of Services -- as part of its obligation to provide court services under the Becca Bill. These programs are designed to support families and school districts and to help them meet their statutory and court-ordered obligations when filing Becca petitions.
The law is changing in these areas so please make sure to find out the most current status by checking laws in this area.
Below is more information about the current programs:
All youth between the ages of 8 and 18 are required to attend school every day. When these youth fail to attend their assigned school, they are considered truant.
Washington State law (RCW 28A.225.030, sometimes referred to as the Becca Bill) requires that school districts file truancy petitions with the Juvenile Court when students (up to the age of 17) have accumulated seven unexcused absences in one month or ten unexcused absences in an academic year.
Superior Court supports many responses to truancy including ideas to improve early intervention, technical assistance to all schools and school districts in Thurston County to aid in filing court cases, community truancy board development, resource and referral assistance from case managers, and a formal, court process.
At-Risk Youth (ARY)
An at-risk youth is defined by statute as a child under the age of 18 who meets at least one of the following three requirements:
- Is absent from home for at least 72 consecutive hours without parental consent; or
- Is beyond parental control such that the child's behavior endangers the health, safety, or welfare of the child or any other person; or
- Has a substance abuse problem for which there are no pending criminal charges relating to the substance abuse.
The purpose of the At-Risk Youth Program is to allow parents a process in which they can request and receive assistance and support from the court in maintaining the care, custody, and control of their child. Only the parent of the child may file the ARY petition. "Parent" is defined as the person(s) having legal right to custody of the child and includes custodian or guardian. The ARY proceeding is a voluntary process and a parent may request a dismissal at any time.
All requests for the filing of a petition are first screened by a member of Probation to ensure the youth meets the criteria and that alternatives to court have been attempted.
The petition must be filed in the county of residence of the parent. You may come to the Family & Juvenile Court and complete a request for services form or call a probation counselor for assistance.
Prior to the filing of an At-Risk Youth Petition, a family assessment must be obtained from the Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Children, Youth & Families. If the youth meets criteria, probation will refer the parent for this assessment prior to initiating the court processes.
- Parent & youth will meet with Probation to file the petition, establish household rules to be requested as conditions of court supervision, and set a date for the matter to be heard by a judicial officer at a fact-finding hearing. Household rules may include but are not limited to following parental rules, curfews, school attendance and academic progress, and participation in mental health counseling or drug and alcohol treatment.
- At the fact-finding hearing, the judicial officer will consider the material presented and make a finding on whether the youth is an At-Risk Youth. The household rules will be adopted as an order of the court, along with any other conditions deemed appropriate by the judge, and a 3- month review hearing will be set.
- Once the At-Risk Youth order is in place, rule violations should be reported to probation and may result in a filing of a motion of contempt. This will set a hearing where the judge may impose court sanctions or make a change in the conditions of the At-Risk Youth order. Sanctions may include such things as limits on the use of electronic devices or social media, community service, or participation in the Juvenile Court’s Youth Development Program.
- If the youth runs away, the parent may request the court issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the youth. When law enforcement contacts the youth, they will deliver the youth to the Detention center. A detention review hearing will be held on the next business day to determine whether to release the youth to the parent or detain the youth as a flight risk pending a contempt hearing.
- An At-Risk Youth order is usually dismissed 6 months after the first review, unless extenuating circumstances can be shown that would warrant an extension. By statute, the order must be dismissed after one year.
Child In Need of Services (CHINS)
A child in need of services is defined by statute as a child under the age of 18 who meets at least one of the following three requirements:
- Is beyond parental control such that the child's behavior endangers the health, safety, or welfare of the child or other person; or
- Has been reported to law enforcement as absent without consent for at least 24 consecutive hours from the parent's home, a crisis residential center, an out-of-home placement, or a court-ordered placement on two or more separate occasions and has exhibited a serious substance abuse problem or behaviors that create a serious risk of hard to the health, safety, or welfare of the child or any other person; or
- Is in need of necessary services, including food, shelter health care, clothing, educational, or services designed to maintain or reunite the family and lacks access to or has declined to utilize these services, and whose parents have evidenced continuing but unsuccessful efforts to maintain the family structure or are unable or unwilling to continue efforts to maintain the family structure.
The purpose of the CHINS is to get a court order requiring temporary placement (for up to nine months) of a child in a residence other than the home of his/her parent. The need for the placement must be based on a serious conflict between the parent and child that cannot be resolved by delivery of services to the family while the child remains at home. A child, parent, or DCYF may file a CHINS petition. A "parent" is defined as the person(s) having legal right to custody of the child and includes custodian or guardian.
Once a CHINS petition has been filed, the child may be temporarily placed, if not already placed, by DCYF in a crisis residential center, foster family home, licensed group home facility, or any other suitable residence to be determined by the Court and DCYF.
Prior to the filing of a CHINS Petition, a family assessment must be obtained from the Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Children, Youth & Families. The assigned social worker will recommend whether to approve the petition, and if approved, a suitable placement for the youth.
- Probation will assist the parent, youth, or social worker in the filing of a petition and scheduling of a fact-finding hearing.
- At the fact-finding hearing, the judicial officer will consider the material presented and make a finding on whether the youth is a child in need of services. If the case is not yet ready for disposition because the social worker requires more time to determine a suitable placement and services, a disposition hearing will be set in two weeks.
- At the disposition hearing, placement of the youth and services in support of reconciliation will be established and a three-month review scheduled.
- If the youth runs from placement, the court may issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the youth. When law enforcement contacts the youth, they will deliver the youth to the Detention center. A detention review hearing will be held on the next business day to determine whether to release the youth to the court-ordered placement or detain the youth as a flight risk pending a contempt hearing.
- At a contempt hearing, the judge may impose court sanctions or make a change in the conditions of the CHINS order. Sanctions may include such things as limits on the use of electronic devices or social media, community service, or participation in the Juvenile Court’s Youth Development Program.
- After nine months from the finding of the CHINS petition, the youth must return home or enter into a voluntary placement arrangement. If neither of these is possible, DCYF will file a Dependency and place the youth in foster care.