Sara VanMeter


This Comment argues that the Washington State legislature took an important step along the road to permanency for abused and neglected children in the state's care when it revised its Juvenile Court Act in 2003. This Act created the presumption that dependency proceedings are open to the public unless a judge determines that excluding the public is in the best interest of the child. This change in Washington state law represents one piece of the puzzle of reforms necessary to reach permanency goals for children in our child welfare system. Those states whose juvenile dependency hearings remainclosed should now consider following in Washington's footsteps. Part II provides an overview of the types of dependency hearings covered by the Juvenile Court Act and describes the new law declaring these hearings open to the public. Part III discusses the shift in federal policy from reunification and family preservation to permanency, the growing demands on the juvenile courts created by these changes in federal law, the inefficiencies in Washington's juvenile dependency proceedings, and the minimal efforts of Washington's juvenile courts to adjust to these increased burdens. Part IV argues that, based on federal and state case law discussing the public's right to open proceedings, the Washington legislature correctly decided to open dependency proceedings to the public. Part V discusses the importance of public and media presence at dependency proceedings and the potential impact of their presence on stakeholder accountability. Part VI concludes the Comment by arguing that now that the courts are open, it is up to the media and the public to attend these proceedings and assure that the state finds safe, stable, permanent homes for its dependent children.