Washington law does not allow US state to 'kidnap' children

·3-min read

A Washington law that aims to protect children seeking reproductive or gender-affirming care has been targeted by claims that it permits "state-sanctioned kidnapping." This is false; while the measure expands cases in which shelters may contact the US state's Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in lieu of parents, it does not address custody or remove notification requirements.

"The newly signed law will allow the government to hide the whereabouts of runaway children who claim to be seeking sex changes or abortions. Meaning, no one can protest the 'state-sanctioned kidnapping of children,'" says a May 10, 2023 Instagram post from the Gateway Pundit, a website that AFP has repeatedly fact-checked.

An April 14 headline from the Epoch Times, another website that has previously spread misinformation, says: "Washington State House Approves Bill Authorizing Hiding of Children Seeking Transgender Medical Intervention From Parents."

<span>Screenshot of an Epoch Times article taken May 18, 2023</span>
Screenshot of an Epoch Times article taken May 18, 2023

Numerous articles and social media posts on TwitterTikTok and Facebook, including many in Spanish, make similar claims about the law.

Democratic Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5599 (SB-5599), titled "Supporting Youth and Young Adults Seeking Protected Health Services," on May 9, 2023.

"This legislation is simply about access to safe, stable shelter and ensuring children do not end up homeless on the street," said Erin Hut, a communications officer for the Washington Senate Democratic Caucus.

"Senate Bill 5599 allows licensed shelters to contact the (DCYF) instead of parents in certain instances, like when a child is seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care."

Parental notification, custody

The legislation cited online does not mention legally separating or taking custody away from parents, nor does it eliminate the state's obligation to inform them about their child.

Washington law (archived here) says licensed shelters must "contact the youth's parent within 72 hours, but preferably within 24 hours, following the time that the youth is admitted to the shelter."

There are circumstances when the shelter can contact the DCYF in lieu of parents, including if notifying a parent could subject a minor to injury, neglect or sexual abuse and exploitation.

SB-5599 broadens those cases to include minors seeking "gender-affirming treatment" or "reproductive health care."

Even with these changes, DCYF is required to make a good-faith attempt to notify parents. The agency must also offer services designed to "resolve the conflict and accomplish a reunification of the family," according to the legislation.

Deirdre Bowen, director of the Family Law Center at Seattle University, told AFP that, in order to protect transgender youth in cases where they may be at risk of harm or discrimination, "the shelter does not directly contact the parents." But this does not mean they are not notified.

"Instead, this is where the state comes in to provide support and family reunification services," she said. "The bill in no way authorizes the state to remove minors from their parents."

Doing so without due process "would be unconstitutional," Bowen said. The only time children are removed from their parents' custody in Washington is when they are abused or neglected.

The bill also does not change the age of medical consent, which is 18 -- nor does it offer reproductive or gender-affirming services, Bowen said.

More of AFPs reporting on LGBTQ misinformation can be found here.