The BECCA Bill was passed in 1996 when the parents of a 13 year-old girl went to the juvenile court for help with their daughter, Rebecca. Rebecca was running away and skipping school, her parents felt she was out of control, and their efforts to help her and keep her safe had not worked. Unfortunately, the juvenile court could not help them unless the girl had committed a crime. Later, Rebecca was found murdered in a park in Spokane. Her parents then lobbied the state to pass this law in order to help other parents of at risk teens.
The Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 had decriminalized running away from home, and there were no mandatory reporting laws for youth who skipped or went missing from school. The Becca Bill attempted to address this. The purpose of the bill was to “empower parents to help their children when they have run away or when their child’s substance abuse or mental health problems place them in serious danger of harming themselves or others.”
In terms of truancy, the bill made it mandatory for schools to notify parents of unexcused absences. Schools must also notify the court and file a petition when a student meets the necessary thresholds. This helps with early intervention and connects parents with school and community resources to try to get their child back on track.
The Becca Bill also established At-Risk-Youth (ARY) and Child in Need of Services (CHINS) Petitions. ARY petitions are brought to court by the parents/guardians of a child who is exhibiting high risk behaviors such as running away from home, has a substance abuse problem, or their behavior is beyond parental control. The petition can help parents discover more ways to help their child by utilizing community resources. It also puts the power of a judge behind the parents in getting their child to engage in these services and be accountable for their actions.
A CHINS petition can be brought to the court by parents/guardians or a youth, and is a request for a temporary out of home placement for the youth. A CHINS order allows a youth to reside outside of their family home for up to 9 months while the family works on reconciliation, without losing custody or the ability to parent the youth. In our county, the family must have and agree upon a place for the youth to stay. The CHINS order helps facilitate mediation and ensures that the family is actively working towards reconciliation while living separately.
The Becca Bill has been through a few changes in recent years, as the legislature and the courts have attempted to improve upon the laws to make them work better for parents, schools, and youth. As it has evolved, there is increasing emphasis on early intervention and diversion. Under both Truancy and ARY petitions, sending a youth to juvenile detention as a means of deterring risky or harmful behavior has become less favored and is the very last sanction used. In our state and in our county, we continue to create and find more effective ways of intervening with youth through access to services, and assigning projects and activities that encourage positive change rather than emphasizing punishment or incarceration.
Use the tabs on the side bar to find out more details about these programs, and if you have questions, please call Juvenile Court Services at 360-679-7325, or Jennifer Boone, Becca Program Coordinator, at 360-679-7927.