In re Dependency of K.W.

FILE THIS OPINION WAS FILED FOR RECORD AT 8 A.M. ON IN CLERK’S OFFICE FEBRUARY 17, 2022 SUPREME COURT, STATE OF WASHINGTON FEBRUARY 17, 2022 ERIN L. LENNON SUPREME COURT CLERK IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON In the Matter of the Dependency of ) No. 99301-7 ) K.W., a minor child. ) EN BANC ) ) : February 17, 2022 Filed ________________ _______________________________) MONTOYA-LEWIS, J.— The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) and the dependency court system serve to provide protection for children who are in unsafe situations with caregivers who are unable to provide safe and stable parenting. When children have to be removed from their parents, the legislative scheme requires that children be placed with relatives first to reduce the disruption children face upon parental removal. In this case, K.W. was removed from his long-term placement with his relative, “Grandma B.,” after she took a one- day trip and did not notify the social worker of the trip. The consequence of this removal resulted in tremendous upheaval in K.W.’s life and violated the requirements of RCW 13.34.130. Though K.W. was legally free, the placement In re Dependency of K.W. No. 99301-7 preferences set out in the statute still applied, and the court erred in failing to apply them and failing to place K.W. with relatives. We reverse. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY A. Factual Background K.W. is fortunate to have an extensive support system of relatives and family friends who have been closely involved in his life since he was born in 2013. He is closely bonded with dozens of family members, including his siblings, cousins, and older relatives across generations who all live in the Seattle area. His cousins are like siblings to him, and two women relatives have helped raise him since he was a baby. K.W. and his family are Black. K.W. regularly spent time with his extended family from a young age, attending family gatherings and significant cultural events together, like the annual Martin Luther King Jr. march and rally. In 2014, when K.W. was about a year old, his mother reached out to her cousin for help caring for K.W. K.W. refers to this woman as his “grandma,” and we refer to her as “Grandma B.” Grandma B. welcomed K.W. into her home, and he remained in her care without interruption until December 6, 2019. In 2016, when K.W. was about three and a half years old, a juvenile court found K.W. and his siblings dependent. The dependency court continued K.W.’s placement with Grandma B. at shelter care and disposition in 2016, and repeatedly throughout the 2 In re Dependency of K.W. No. 99301-7 next several years of the dependency. Grandma B. has effectively raised K.W. since infancy, with the love and support of many other relatives. Grandma B. has extensive experience working with children both professionally and at home. She has decades of experience as a teacher at an early childhood learning center for children experiencing the traumatic …

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