Washington state foster parents want to unionize

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Daniele Baxter, who has opened her home to more than 700 abused and neglected children over the past two decades, carries a business card that lists her occupation as “professional parent.”

The full-time foster parent hopes to become a genuine card-carrying union member as well.

She and others are trying to organize what is believed to be the nation’s first union of foster parents, and hope to win the right to bargain with state government.

They want to establish higher training and education standards and create an experienced, professional corps of foster parents. They also hope to secure better compensation, including retirement benefits and perhaps medical insurance.

That, in turn, could reduce the high turnover in their ranks that results in youngsters being bounced from one foster home to another, they say.

“We really are the professionals in this field,” said Baxter’s husband, Steve Baxter. “When you have a really hard job to do, who do you call in? You call in the union plumber, the union carpenter and the union foster parent.”

Washington state’s Children’s Administration, which oversees foster care, has refused to say what it thinks about the effort to organize the state’s estimated 6,000 foster parents.

Daniele Baxter said foster parents are signing up in droves. But she would not give numbers. The foster parents would be part of the Washington Federation of State Employees, an AFL-CIO affiliate that is the largest union representing Washington state government workers.

“If we do it right here, I think it will set a pattern around the country,” said Greg Devereux, director of the state workers union.

Observers around the country are watching the first-of-its-kind organizing drive. But the National Foster Parent Association has declined to take a position.

“The other states are in a wait-and-see mode, because there are a lot of questions to be answered,” said Karen Jorgenson, director of the organization. “Is this going to increase the rift between the department and the foster parents? One of the questions is, what are the benefits?”

Republican state Sen. Joe Zarelli rejected the idea of foster parents unionizing as contrary to the volunteer nature of the job.

“The whole idea of opening your home to children that need parental role models is one of volunteerism and not one of employment,” said Zarelli, himself a former foster parent. “You don’t do it for what you get, other than directly from the kids in the form of appreciation.”

Washington state has about 9,600 children in foster care. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Washington state’s foster parents are paid by the state on a sliding scale for taking in abused or neglected children, receiving roughly $375 to $525 a month. Foster parents also receive medical coupons, clothing vouchers and other assistance for the children, along with training for themselves.

Relations between foster parents and state child welfare agencies can be frosty, though. Foster parents complain that the amounts they are paid do not cover their true costs, and say too many of them drop out in frustration because they do not get adequate training.

Turnover among Washington’s foster parents is estimated by the state at 20 percent to 25 percent a year.

The Baxters presidents of the Foster Parents Association of Washington State said a more professionally trained corps would ultimately save the state money.

“Basically, if we can give the support to the foster parents so they can view this more as a profession, a supported and respected profession, the turnover might be less,” Daniele Baxter said. “What we’ve been called for years and years and years is volunteers, and we’re not volunteers. This is a career choice.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Everett
Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Rep. Rick Larsen speaks at the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Larsen kickoff in Everett canceled over fear of pro-Palestinian protesters

The event had been scheduled to take place at the Scuttlebutt Brewing Taproom on Monday night.

After 3 years in jail, Camano murder suspect’s trial delayed again

In February 2021, prosecutors allege, Dominic Wagstaff shot and killed his father, shot his brother’s girlfriend and tried to shoot his brother.

The access loop trail on the Old Sauk Trail on Monday, May 27, 2024 in Darrington, Washington. (Ta'Leah Van Sistine / The Herald)
10 accessible trails to explore this summer in Snohomish County

For people with disabilities, tree roots and other obstacles can curb access to the outdoors. But some trails are wheelchair-friendly.

Everett NewsGuild members cheer as a passing car honks in support of their strike on Monday, June 24, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett Herald newsroom strikes amid layoffs

“We hope that people who live in these communities can see our passion, because it’s there,” said Sophia Gates, one of 12 Herald staffers who lost jobs last week.

A person wears a pride flag in their hat during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion memorial Park in Arlington, Washington, on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Judge blocks parts of Washington’s new parental rights law

The South Whidbey School District is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the law giving parents access to counseling records for their children.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Gold Bar in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Fire destroys Gold Bar home along U.S. 2

The sole resident was not home at the time of the fire. No one was injured.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.