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When Parents Don't Pick Up Kids From Juvenile Detention

Prison bars file photo.
Flickr Photo/Neil Conway (CC BY2.0)/

Many youth become homeless when they get out of detention centers and their parents refuse or fail to pick them up.

That’s the finding of a new report that calls for reforms to the way Washington state handles young offenders.


In Pierce County last year, 417 children’s parents refused to pick them up from detention. Another 146 had no parents to be found.

The report from Columbia Legal Services finds that that’s a problem statewide. And it can land young people in worse situations than they were in before they were locked up.

Mary Van Cleve, author of the report: “There really is no one specific agency or organization in the state that is responsible for these kids.”

She said one reason the problem is so large is that Washington leads the nation in the number of children locked up for non-criminal offenses, like skipping school or running away from home.

Van Cleve: “One thing we could do is look at the number of kids that are coming into jail, and do we really need to be putting these kids in jail or could we be providing them with up-front, early-intervention services,” like mental health and substance abuse screenings or helping kids arrested for domestic violence reconcile with family members.

The report found that when parents abandon their kids after detention, the state doesn’t necessarily consider it neglect or abandonment.

Van Cleve said the state needs to find long-term, stable placements for young people when they go to jail so there is a plan in place upon their release if their families don’t step up to claim them.

Year started with KUOW: 2008