By Destiny Kensinger
with Lillian Hewko
I’m Destiny Kensinger. I’m a reunified child formally in foster care. My story began when I was 6. My dad went to prison, so my 4 younger siblings and I were left with my mom. When I was 11, we were taken into foster care. It was a pretty bad situation, but we were all able to stay in the same home. My little brother got to live with his father within 2 weeks of being in the system. When I was 12, my dad got out of prison and started to step up to the plate. Eventually, through some obstacles, he was able to get us back. Fortunately, in my case, the timing worked out perfectly. But if he had gotten out a year later or even 6 months later, he wouldn’t have been able to get us back. Who knows what would have happened to us or whether we would have been able to stay together or not. I can’t imagine our lives without my dad. Life with dad though is great. Little Victoria is a track star and Shania just made varsity for the basketball team at the junior high. I just finished my basketball season up at Bothell High School and am about to start softball. I’m planning to go to college. Izabella is starting to experiment in the kitchen. On behalf of myself and my 4 sisters and all the other children who are in foster care, please consider SHB 1284 seriously as we were lucky, we just met the timeline but not all other families are as fortunate.
Stories like Destiny’s remind us that it is impossible to measure the power of the human will and spirit. However, as Destiny explained, many families working equally as hard to stay together aren’t so lucky. The current law requires the state to terminate parental rights when a child is in out of home care for 15 of the last 22 months. There are exceptions to this timeline; however, parents can rarely overcome the stigma and stereotypes that lead many of us to believe that a child is better off without their incarcerated parent. We see this even though studies have shown that maintaining contact with one’s incarcerated parent can reduce feelings of abandonment and improve emotional response during separation.
This is why Legal Voice is urging the passage of SHB 1284, the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill. The bill takes into consideration the barriers that confront incarcerated parents and parents in residential substance abuse treatment programs. It ensures that when it is in the best interest of the child, families working hard to stay together will be seen and heard by our child welfare system. A system which often moves too quickly to truly consider what is at stake for a young person like Destiny.
By supporting SHB 1284, we seek to recognize the collective struggle of children and their families to stay together. Let’s choose to acknowledge our youth, our future, and tell our legislators to support SHB 1284!
SHB 1284 passed the House 96-1! Please take the time to thank Reps Roberts and Walsh. Email them at:firstname.lastname@example.org
SHB 1284 will be heard this Thursday, March 14th at 10 am in front of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee, please write an email to each of the Human Services and Corrections committee members asking them to support SHB 1284:
Dear Mr. Chair and Committee Members,
I am writing in support of SHB 1284. I believe that incarcerated parents, parents in residential substance abuse treatment programs and their children need a more fair chance to work toward reunification. We need to allow time, when necessary, to find safe permanency options that do not involve severing familial ties forever. [Add personal story, if applicable, for your support].
Unnecessarily separating families is devastating to children in foster care, their incarcerated parents, and our communities. Whereas, 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. Please support SHB 1284.
Destiny Kensinger is a 15 years old freshman at Bothell High School. In her free-time she enjoys playing sports and spending time with friends. She isn’t exactly sure what she wants to be when she is older, but with her drama and acting classes she is considering a career in acting.
photo of Veteran Parent Shanye Rochester and fellow advocate Destiny Kensinger.