Speaking of Women's Rights: 03/13

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

People can change... and families reunite!

by Alise Hegle 
with Lillian Hewko

My name is Alise Hegle. I am in absolute support of SHB 1284l. I am a formerly incarcerated mother who was facing a 7 year prison sentence at the time of my daughter’s birth where she was immediately placed in foster care. I know firsthand the fear experienced with not knowing the outcome of my child’s future. While I was in jail, I knew I had a court date coming up, but had no idea what was going on in my daughter’s case. I sent approximately 70 kites, which is a way to communicate with the jail staff, with no response. I had no money to make outside phone calls and no contact with my attorney or social worker during this time. The CPS case I had with my daughter was almost fast-tracked through the system because of the current timeline that is in place and because no one knew what the outcome of my criminal case was going to be. In my case, I was lucky. My dependency judge noticed that I should be present and ordered me to be transported to the courtroom. I was then able to inform the court that I received an opportunity to go to residential treatment instead of prison. When I graduated treatment, my daughter was 11 months old and I had never received visitation during treatment, making it difficult to prove my rights and establish bonds upon release. Luckily, I was able to embrace the court-ordered services that were in place and prove that I was the best fit for my daughter.

When my daughter turned 17 months old, she was in my care full time.  I worked very hard to turn my life around and I am grateful that my daughter wakes up every morning and sees her mother which serves to provide a positive path for her future. Through this journey, I am now the Program Lead for King County Superior Courts Parents for Parents Program. We work with families whose children are involved with Child Protective Services. I am able to be a part of the solution today because I was provided the opportunity to reunify with my daughter. I see on a daily basis that people can change and families can reunite. I recognize in my case I was given the necessary time to prove myself and I see some families who are not provided with this opportunity. If the dependency timeline could be delayed, many other incarcerated parents or parents in treatment centers like I was in, will have the opportunity to turn their life around and work towards reunification. This would benefit society because I know if I lost rights to my daughter the chance of me turning my life around would be very slim. I would not be a productive member of society like I am today. I am a straight A student working on my Bachelor Degree. Please hear my voice that people CAN change, and families CAN reunite!”

SHB 1284 will provide the court the guidance and discretion necessary to help reduce the chances that incarcerated parents and parents in residential substance abuse programs will permanently lose rights to their children. Currently, our Senate is considering amending SHB 1284 to only extend to incarcerated and previously incarcerated parents and not parents who are in residential substance abuse programs. However, as Alise’s story shows us, we cannot give up on parents who are touched by addiction in our communities.

Residential substance abuse treatment programs have been funded by our federal government since for most individuals, treatment and recovery work best in a community based, coordinated system of comprehensive services. Allowing parents in treatment to receive family support is invaluable as studies have shown that individuals charged with crimes who completed treatment were far less likely to end up back in prison than those who did not get services. Studies have also shown that when treatment is combined with parental support, family reunification increases. Please take the time to tell the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee members why they must keep parents in residential substance abuse programs included in the bill.

Action Needed:
We need help getting SHB 1284 out of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee! Write an email to each of the Human Services and Corrections committee members asking them to support SHB 1284:



Make a public comment (1000 character limit) on the bill

Sample Email/Comment:
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].

I encourage you not to amend the bill as it applies to parents in residential substance abuse treatment. Please include these parents, since treatment combined with parental support in child welfare cases has been linked to increased family reunification. Increased family reunification has been linked to reduced recidivism and reduced chances of inter-generational incarceration. For these reasons, please support SHB 1284.


Alise Hegle is the Program Lead for the King Count Parents for Parents Program, when she is not working she enjoys family time with her fiancé and 4 year old daughter Rebekah, particularly feeding the ducks and having fun at the beach. She is an active member of her church. She is obtaining her bachelor’s in Applied Behavioral Science and plans to continue on to receive a master’s degree in public administration. One-day she hopes to succeed in taking her family horseback riding.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Protecting All Families

The so-called curse “may you live in interesting times” can probably be applied to every era in human history, but there’s no denying it’s applicable today. This week especially, as the U.S. Supreme Court (or SCOTUS: the Supreme Court of the United States) hears two cases about marriage for same sex couples, is an interesting time.

However the Court rules, the debate won’t be over. Perhaps it will never be over (see, for example, abortion). Whether SCOTUS says California voters may take away the right to marry, or that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, or anything in between, the fight won’t stop.

Yet in many ways we’re all debating the wrong thing.  After all, civil marriage is a legal construct: it’s designed to ensure the orderly transfer of property – primarily between men, at least originally. (When women were property.) It’s also, at least historically, about inheritance by, and protection of, “legitimate” children.  Indeed, much of argument before SCOTUS, and in the various courts and legislatures, has been about “what’s best for the children.”  Justice Kennedy wondered aloud about the estimated 40,000 children of same sex couples in California, and what their needs and rights are. (Please do NOT take that as an indication of how he will rule.)

In many of the decisions about marriage, including the one in Washington that Legal Voice and our allies brought, courts have bought into the notion that marriage is primarily for procreation; that is, we must have marriage as an incentive to couples to be tied to one another and to have and raise children. I like to refer to this as the “unrestrained heterosexual sexuality” argument, or the “straights behave like bunnies” theme. And it’s hogwash. 

First of all, I doubt anyone says “I’d like to have unrestrained (heterosexual) sex with you but you might get pregnant so let’s get married to ensure our children have Social Security benefits.”  (At least, I hope no one does; what kind of fun is that?) More important, at least in my view, are all those couples who choose not to or cannot have children: are their relationships less worthy of state recognition? If you rest the right to marry on the needs of children, you’re ignoring – indeed, snubbing – hundreds of thousands of healthy and happy couples. 

And what about the needs and rights of single parents and their children? The data are clear that parenting outside marriage is on the rise. How do we ensure that these families also have access to the legal and social protections that come with marriage? One answer – or least a theme – is proposed by Nancy Polikoff, who asks why we pin all those protections to marriage, rather than to other relationships or statuses. It’s a good question. Is there a better, more just and equal way, to recognize and venerate all families?   

I’m not sure Professor Polikoff has the best approach, because it seems rather ad hoc to me, but at least she’s thinking.  Maybe, just maybe, once we win marriage equality, we can turn our attention to that more expansive question. Who’s with me?

Okay, I'm not really worried about protecting Batman. Still, Alfred has rights too.  Or he should.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Perfect Timing... Why I Support SHB 1284

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:

Action Needed:
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:


Sample Email/Comment:
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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It’s Safe To Come Out Now:
On gay rights, political cover, and doing the right thing.


By Laurie Carlsson

The gay rights movement has experienced some great strides over the last year. President Obama’s endorsement followed by historic support in his inaugural address, the first successful defeat of a state Defense of Marriage Act, and of course our grand celebration of marriage equality in three states last November.  We’re constantly hearing of wins across the globe, big and small: Advocates in the NFL, a supportive Mexican Supreme Court, and conservatives – one by one – coming down on the side of equality. As a recent Salon article put forth, gay rights is “a movement whose time has come.” 

It seems we’ve reached a bit of a tipping point: It’s now more politically convenient to be for gay rights than against them.

Which brings a whole new element to this issue that I hadn’t considered before. How do I feel about those who have put off publically supporting the cause until now, when it’s safe to be seen toeing the gay rights line?

In 2006 comic book behemoth DC Comics hired writer J.H. Williams to take over its popular Batwoman series.  Williams proposed a story arc that included a depiction of Kate Kane, Batwoman’s pedestrian alter ego, as a “lesbian socialite.” After a media firestorm around the announcement of the storyline, the series faced a sequence of delays, with the launch finally taking place in September of 2011.  Coincidence? Or fear of repercussions in a time – just six years ago – when “gay stuff” was a whole lot more contentious.

Then there’s the case of Unveiled magazine. Last month, a wedding photographer presented them with a photo from a same-sex wedding, hoping to use it as an advertisement in the publication. They responded by asking the potential advertiser if she would be amenable to submitting a “less controversial” picture. Instead, the photographer turned to the internet and publicized the heck out of the magazine’s decision not to print the ad. The photographer’s blog post was met by an incredible outpouring of support, and eventually an apology from the owners of Unveiled, which I will paraphrase here:

‘We’re not the bigots here; it’s everyone else!’ And we’re sorry, but we thought it was possible that people might be mad at us.’

I believe that they’re sorry. But it’s also hard to believe that the apology wasn’t issued because the publication realized it had misjudged its demographic, and that it was in their best interest to print the ad after all. They followed the crowd, once it was clear that the path was safe.

When Legal Voice filed a lawsuit against King County, on behalf of 4 same-sex couples who had been denied a marriage license in 2004, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t popular. It didn’t win them lots of friends, nor make them heroes. Doing the right thing, which can often be very different from the politically convenient thing – might lose money for your business, or make people angry. But someone has to pave the way for those who will join the cause later.

As Philanthropy Northwest pointed out recently, in this tough economy nonprofit organizations are losing the element of strategic planning, often operating from a “hand-to-mouth” mentality. Changing laws takes years, sometimes decades of hard work, to say nothing of changing hearts and minds. Legal Voice did a great deal of strategic work around marriage equality. Now they’re moving forward and organizing around other progressive policies that keep families strong, like paid family leave, and preserving parental rights for those who are incarcerated.

As you’re thinking about your giving budget this year, consider this: What kind of change do you want to invest in? It might not be the “movement whose time has come.”  But take the chance to be on the ground floor of social change. Give to Legal Voice* and other organizations that are at the helm of the bandwagon. Climb aboard because it’s the right thing to do, political cover or not.

Laurie Carlsson is a former Legal Voice staffer. She led the Family Outreach effort for the Approve R74 campaign, works at the University of Washington School of Law and currently sits on the QLaw Foundation Board.

*This blog post NOT paid for by the Legal Voice Fundraising Department.