OLYMPIA - Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation into law this week that would require the state to conduct traumatic brain injury screenings for new children entering the state's foster care system.
House Bill 1605 was sponsored by District 13 lawmaker Tom Dent (R) from Moses Lake.
Under the new law, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) would be required to evaluate traumatic brain injury screening tools, options for including those tools in existing screens for children in out-of-home care, and treatment actions following identification of traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. A TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. TBI can cause a wide range of functional changes. Disabilities resulting from a TBI depend upon the severity of the injury, the location of the injury, and the age and general health of the individual. Some common disabilities include problems with cognition—thinking, memory, and reasoning; sensory processing—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell; communication— expression and understanding; and behavior or mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2013, approximately 2.8 million TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths occurred in the United States. Being struck by or against an object was the second leading cause of TBI, accounting for about 15 percent of TBI-related emergency visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States in 2013. For children under the age of fifteen, one in five, or 22 percent of TBI-related emergency visits, hospitalizations, and deaths were caused by being struck by or against an object.
Representative Dent said he has experience as a foster parent and children going into a home are sometimes getting out of an abusive relationship.
“I have experience as a foster parent. Sometimes when kids come into a home, they are out of an abusive relationship, they have a hard time focusing on their school work or following simple rules,” said Dent, R-Moses Lake. “As we study concussions, we are finding out it isn't always a behavioral issue. Many of these kids unfortunately have suffered a traumatic brain injury. It is important for these youth to have a TBI screening so steps can be taken to address the injury earlier. I am hopeful the report will allow to move forward with the screening process. This should not add any extensive costs or time onto the current screening process. The TBI screening could be added on to a screening that already occurs for foster youth. It is just a series of questions and other basic screening tools that are also currently used in youth sports."
Supporters of the legislation said children enter foster care and have been injured in ways that no one else is aware of. Foster youth sometimes exhibit symptoms of traumatic injury, and it is appropriate for these youth to have screenings so that steps can be taken earlier to address that injury.
"A TBI is like many other injuries; if caught early, it can be treated. This TBI screening would be added on to a screening that already occurs for foster youth and should not have a huge fiscal impact. Foster youth often exhibit fatigue and other traditional symptoms of TBI. These youth are often mislabeled as developmentally disabled, hearing impaired, or other labels, when they really have experienced TBI. This would require the use of a seven-question screening tool, not a diagnosis. The TBI injury can be detected as early as birth. Traumatic brain injury screening tools are currently used in youth sports," supporters told lawmakers.
The legislation was signed by Gov. Inslee on Wednesday and is set to go into law on July 28, 2019.