Voices’ Blog

2016 General Assembly: How Did Court-Involved Kids Fare?

Posted:  -  By: Voices for VA's Kids

[For detail specifically on our “Fostering Futures” campaign for youth aging out of foster care, read this post.]

While a great deal of my time & energy this General Assembly session was spent on ensuring the success of the “Fostering Futures” program for youth aging out of foster care, I also spent considerable energy on a plethora of bills & budget items related to child welfare, school discipline, school-to-prison pipeline, and juvenile justice. Details here, but as always, please let me know if you have any questions, feedback, thoughts by emailing amy@vakids.org.

Our bills:

SB 776 (Barker): We worked diligently to secure the unanimous passage of this bill, which provides a mechanism for children living in kinship care arrangements to be enrolled in the local school division where their relative caregiver is living. Sound familiar? We worked to secure passage of this exact bill in 2013, but it contained a 3-year sunset clause. By passing the bill without such a clause this year, the measure is now permanently in the code.

Result: Passed the full General Assembly unanimously, awaits the Governor’s signature.

SB 587 (Sturtevant): This bill aimed would have made discretionary (rather than mandate) the role prosecutors play in truancy court cases. Often, school officials, rather than prosecutors, have more appropriate tools to address instances of truancy; by offering discretion in place of the mandate, school divisions and courts could have implemented a truancy process that best fit their locality’s need. Our version of the bill was supported by both the Va. School Boards’ Association and the Va. Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

Result: While the bill passed unanimously in the Senate, it was never docketed/heard in the House, so it effectively died there without a vote. See you next year!


Our Child Welfare work with partner organizations:

SB 7 (Stanley), HB 671 (Peace): We supported our partners at the Virginia Poverty Law Center on the successful passage of this bill aimed at improving the quality of court-appointed counsel for parents involved in abuse/neglect or termination of parental rights proceedings. The bill directs judges to first consult the guardian ad litem list when selecting counsel, unless a GAL-qualified lawyer isn’t available or appropriate for some reason.

Result: Passed unanimously, signed by the Governor

Budget: Kinship Diversion Reporting (Howell, Vogel): Again with our partners at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, we worked to include language in the budget that would begin the process of collecting data around “kinship diversion” cases: when local DSS caseworkers facilitate kinship placements in lieu of formal foster care. The final language provides for a data collection pilot program in the Western region of the state. While we would’ve preferred a statewide data collection effort, we’re grateful the General Assembly approved language that offers us a step forward on this important issue.

Result: Language included in the final budget conference report; Budget bill awaits Gov.’s signature


Our School Discipline work with partner organizations:

SB 487 (McClellan): We supported our partners JustChildren in their work on this bill, which eliminates the requirement that School Resource Officers (SROs) funded under the SRO grant program “enforce school board rules and codes of student conduct.” Too often, SROs are utilized for actions outside of their purpose, tasked as classroom disciplinarians rather than addressing larger safety concerns. The bill represents a small step in a larger effort to clarify school safety roles and prevent unnecessary court referrals for kids who simply show poor behavior, rather than threats to school safety. You can expect more policy work from Voices on school-to-prison pipeline issues in the future, and read more on the problem from our friends at JustChildren here.

Result: The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and the House on a 95-2 vote; it awaits signature by the Governor.

SB 458 (McEachin): Again with JustChildren, we supported this bill that addressed the need for alternatives to long-term suspensions and expulsions, which derail kids’ education and can often leave them unsupervised and vulnerable during daytime hours when they should be learning. The bill began with the ambitious goal of requiring schools consider other, more rehabilitative alternatives before handing down suspensions and expulsions, but as it moved through the process, the final version of the bill simply directed the Va. Department of Education to provide guidelines on such alternatives. Despite this seemingly harmless iteration, the House did not approve the bill.

Result: Passed the Senate 31-9, Failed in the House 43-55.


Our Juvenile Justice work:

Budget: Juvenile Justice Reform Package: Our role as steering committee members of the RISE for Youth coalition has been some of our most important & rewarding, yet challenging work to date. During the legislative session, we supported what will be a transformational evolution for our Department of Juvenile Justice: the eventual closure of Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center (one of the two remaining large juvenile prisons in Virginia) and a concerted investment in a continuum of rehabilitative, restorative alternatives to incarceration. This portion of the juvenile justice reform effort, submitted by the administration, was ultimately approved by the legislature and will go forward.

A second piece of the reform effort was reshaped by the legislature: the McAuliffe administration originally put forward a plan to build two new juvenile correctional centers: an 88-bed facility in Hanover, and a 64-bed facility in Chesapeake. The General Assembly slowed this plan during the session: they did not approve the Hanover request, and replaced the capital funding for the new Chesapeake facility with planning money that will be attached to a multi-agency task force’s review.

Along with our RISE for Youth partners, we offered our juvenile justice policy expertise and advocacy to money committee members as they worked through their options, reminding them of our coalition’s core principles, among them:

  • Any secure facilities for kids should be small (such that facility directors know the names and “stories” of all kids committed there.
  • Any secure facilities for kids should be located close to their home communities, so parents, counselors, mentors, and service providers can be regularly and integrally involved in rehabilitative efforts, which also leads to more successful returns home.

We look forward to continuing to work with the RISE coalition and the administration to make sure youth and families who have experienced the juvenile justice system have a voice and administrative decision-makers use best practices in shaping its tranformation. Stay connected to our RISE efforts by signing up for email updates here.

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