My autistic son Luke was discharged recently after a month in a Washington State King County Evaluation and Treatment Center. My understanding is these treatment centers are partially funded by the State of Washington. They do short-stay commitments for clients who present with severe mental illness. Luke has now returned to voluntary placement, although with extreme changes that include living in a hotel!
Many folks including medical professionals do not understand voluntary placement. Every state is different. Luke was introduced to a group care facility on 3/1/18. This place was identified by Luke’s case manager and I was able to look into the facility and agency prior to placement. At the time, the agency did not share with us that it was bought by a California company and would soon be going through transition. When this was understood, it was really too late to do anything about that and to be honest with you there was no other placement offered. We had been looking for three years already. Therefore, placement went forward.
This was the first time ever he was voluntarily admitted to be housed by our state. This is not a decision taken lightly. Several reasons cause this to become a reality for some families. Here were the most important reasons that led to our son’s placement: A. Family dynamics changed. I was not living with Luke’s dad any longer. B. My health and Luke’s dad’s health had changed dramatically. C. Luke’s behaviors were becoming increasingly harder to handle by his aging parents who were worn out. D. No one in Luke’s immediate family was living near to help us and Luke’s dad would not allow a move to another state that I had considered.
Voluntary placement does give some control over to the state, but does not take away the parents or guardians authority to move their child out of that placement. I found guidelines that explain the process, but it is by no stretch of the imagination everything that goes into an agreement to place one’s child into state care. Here is a summary of what defines placement based on our state’s administrative codes:
“….Before a child may enter voluntary out-of-home placement, the child’s parent or legal guardian must execute a voluntary placement agreement. The voluntary placement agreement must specify:
(a)That the child’s parent or legal guardian retains legal custody of the child;
(b) That the department is responsible for the child’s placement and care;
(c) That the signature of the child’s parent or legal guardian is required;
(d) The legal status of the child;
(e) The rights and obligations of the parent or legal guardian;
(f) The rights and obligations of the child;
(g) The rights and obligations of the department while the child is in placement; and
(h) That any party to the voluntary placement agreement may terminate the agreement at any time…..” CREDIT: WA STATE LEGISLATURE WEBSITE
Obviously this is the minimum answer to a very complicated process. I wanted to touch upon it though because many of my colleagues and friends believe that I have given my son over as a ward of the state. This is not true. However, when you give permission to the state to assist in housing your child, you do give up some control . This is where things can get very difficult and one must be strong. NAVIGATING social services is not for the faint of heart.
This decision to place Luke was based on what our state calls the Core waiver. The other two waivers are called Basic or Basic Plus waiver. These two Luke had been on when he lived at home. As soon as the need for out-of-home placement is requested, Luke was placed in the CORE waiver. This is not a slam dunk. It takes years for someone to get on the CORE and even if your child is on it , it does not guarantee success in finding placement. In 2015, we were unsuccessful based off the fact there was no agency available to serve Luke. In March of this year all that changed. We placed Luke . Yet as I write this Luke has been housed in a hotel going on a month.
We believe an apartment has been found, but have not been shown that placement yet. So far I find the lack of urgency a sad state of affairs and I have requested the help of the ombudsman to work on behalf of Luke’s case. The ombudsman is a nonprofit who has stated to me Luke’s delay for proper housing is unacceptable. Hopefully next week we have more information.