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Schools & Program Visits - Oct, 1997 Issue #48

Tacoma, Washington
Lon’s Visit: August 23, 1997
Dennis Hedman, Executive Director

The Becca Foundation is a non-profit organization in the State of Washington created to help “reconnect families in crisis (who have an adolescent child displaying out-of-control behavior) by providing programs, services, education, and support to the child and family.” The Foundation was incorporated in February 1996. The roots of the organization are contained in the stories of volunteer families who have been in crisis in the State of Washington. All of the stories are tragic, but some have a more happy ending than others. 

One of the stories is that of Brenda Truitt Jones, President of the Becca Foundation, her husband James and their 13 year old daughter Ruth. In 1992, Ruth began skipping school, became sexually active, and started running away from home. Every attempt to intervene by her parents resulted in failure because Ruth continued her out-of-control behavior and running away. Essentially, according to Jones, State law would not allow any residential intervention for a child of 13 or older without that child’s written permission unless a serious crime had been committed by the child. This included family attempts as well as licensed facilities. Ruth finally obtained the help and structure she needed when she was sent to Kentucky to live with extended family members. In response to her out-of-control behavior, a Kentucky Judge “placed her in a structured treatment center for 7-1/2 months and on probation for an additional year.” When Ruth returned to Washington, she supported the passage of the Becca Bill which was eventually passed by the legislature in 1995. In a letter to the State Senate, she stated why she kept running away. “It was because I didn’t like rules and I wanted to do everything and anything I wanted to do.” And, “And another thing about laws is that the parents have no rights.” (Her full letter is contained in Woodbury Reports, Issue #35, August 1995, p. 3). 

Executive Director Dennis Hedman has a similar story, but with a tragic ending. “Becca” was his daughter! In 1992, at the age of 12, she stopped playing with Barbie dolls and started rebelling against the rules, specifically the rule against having boys at home when her parents were gone. The friction got so bad they placed her in a Crisis Residential Center for a 72 hour “cooling off.” When they went to pick her up they were informed that according to state law she did not have to return home if she did not want to. They placed her in a Foster Home. In the agreement the Hedmans made with the State (a standard procedure), the State agreed to provide Guidance, Supervision, and Physical Custody through the Foster Home. Becca ran from the Foster Home many times, once for up to 47 days. When the Hedmans found Becca, in the summer of 1993, they placed her in a Treatment Center in Spokane, Washington. Again, the program couldn’t do what was necessary to hold her and she ran to the streets. In October of 1993, on the streets of Spokane Washington, she was brutally murdered as she was prostituting herself to support a crack drug habit. 

To add insult to injury, while the Hedmans were still grieving over the death of their daughter, in the summer of 1994, the State billed the Hedmans $1280 for Becca’s stay in the foster home, including the time she had been on the streets while the foster home and the state had been unable to keep her safe. The Hedman’s took legal action on the basis of breach of contract by the State. The Hedman’s won, but the State won an appeal to an Administrative Judge and attached their bank account without notice, which is allowed by Washington state law in matters pertaining to child support. It cost the Hedmans $1200 for an attorney to fight the action. The result of that legal action was the State kept what they had seized, and an agreement was reached for the Hedmans to make monthly payments against the balance. They just made the final payment to the State in August. 

In 1995, the Hedmans and the Joneses, along with many other people with similar stories, teamed up to expose the injustices they saw in the 1977 Juvenile Justice Act, and to support The Becca Bill. This contained modifications of the law which, if in force in 1992, they felt would have allowed responsible parents the authority and support to take action which, if the parents had been allowed to do at the time, might have saved Becca, and other street children. The legislature passed The Becca Bill, but not without significant opposition. The then Governor Lowrey vetoed significant portions of the Becca Bill with the observation he thought they were “too repressive.” His veto was upheld by a straight party line vote in the legislature. Each year, the legislature has continued to modify the Juvenile Code under pressure from parent activists, and the fight continues. 

The Becca Foundation has several goals. One, of course, is to train citizens in ways to petition the state legislature to help children by supporting legislation to help responsible parents, and provide services to children with parents unable or unwilling to provide what their out-of-control children need. They also are working on developing referral and advocacy services, educating the public regarding the functions of the Becca Law, create teen support groups, and provide family counseling. 

The function I use most often is as a ready made support group. Volunteers with the Becca Foundation are very familiar with Washington law, state agency policies, and have been parents of out-of-control teens themselves. They are ready to help any parent who is trying to help their out-of-control teen. Having someone like this to call on can be extremely valuable for a parent trying to make sense out of what needs to be done, and how to do it without running afoul of state law. The Becca Foundation is looking for more volunteers, to make contacts with referral sources and quality schools and program so they can help advise parents, and to help parent groups in other states who have similar goals. 

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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