by Willamette University College of Law Federalist Society
In January Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services promulgated WAC 388-148-1320, compelling all persons in a licensed foster home with foster children two years of age or younger to have proof of full immunizations. This regulation makes it so that foster homes are restricted from caring for dependent children two years of age or younger if the family does not vaccinate themselves and their children.
Though well intentioned, this regulation further burdens licensed foster homes, restricts adoption, and undermines the reunification of families. It also is an example of how the erosion of our civil liberties can in many cases lead to negative unintended consequences for some of our most vulnerable citizens. If Washington is going to protect its foster children it has to start by protecting its citizens’ freedom of choice.
Under the new regulation, anyone who presently cares for dependent children has until mid-February to have their family vaccinated in order to maintain custody, or they must relinquish their rights to care for children two and younger. As a state with an already burdened foster care system, even the loss of just one licensed foster home will negatively impact Washington’s foster care system, not to mention the individual children that that home could have housed.
Additionally, in order to adopt a child, a prospective adoptive family – much like a prospective foster family – must undergo a home study. Now, as a result of the regulation, a prospective adoptive family must adhere and vaccinate themselves or fail the home study. Failure of a home study disqualifies a potential family from adopting a child and this means less eligible parents to take in the state’s parentless children.
Finally, if the state removes an infant or toddler from his home, the family may petition the court and regain custody. However, now before a child may be returned to his home, the family must adhere to this new regulation or face losing all parental rights permanently, again likely placing further burdens on the already burdened state foster care system.
Our point is not about questioning whether you should or should not vaccinate your child. That is a choice best left up to you and your doctor. It is, however, about the unintended consequences that may occur when well-intentioned bureaucrats ham-handedly regulate without thinking through how their actions could negatively impact the very people they are attempting to help.
Those consequences are very real for the children who will no longer be eligible to live in a foster home because their foster parents believe, rightly or not, that there are real health risks associated with vaccinations.
At first glance requiring all foster children to be vaccinated may appear to be the right thing to do, but the reality is that coercing foster families to do so will reduce the overall number of Washington’s foster homes, preventing foster children from receiving the care they so desperately need.
Let us all retain the right to choose. It makes good sense and public policy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the Willamette University College of Law Federalist Society. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent Willamette University, its faculty, or its student body.