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Voices’ Blog

2019 Legislative Session: Advocating For Kids In Foster Care (UPDATED: Feb 15th)

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

In 2018, Voices and our partners worked to raise awareness of issues children and their families encountered in foster care. We successfully helped pass the Kinship Guardianship Assistance program, which provides financial assistance to a limited number of children placed in licensed foster homes with their relatives. In 2019, we are entering into the legislative session on the heels of the release of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s study of the foster care system. There is renewed energy from lawmakers to respond to the concerns about the safety and well being of children in the foster care system. In addition, lawmakers are preparing the state to begin implementing the Federal Family First Prevention Services Act.

In 2019, Voices helped create the first-ever Foster Care Unified Agenda.  The Unified Agenda is crafted by partners from across the Commonwealth who represent policy advocates, service providers, parents and caregivers, and—most especially—youth to identify key legislative opportunities to improve Virginia’s child welfare system. The Unified Agenda can be downloaded here.

Members Include:

CASA of Central Virginia

C2ADOPT

Children’s Home Society

Depaul Community Resources

Family Focused Treatment Associations

Families Forward Virginia

Formed Families Forward

Greater Richmond SCAN

Greater Charlottesville Trauma Informed Community Network

NewFound Families Virginia

United Methodist Family Services

Virginia Association of Child Placing Agencies

Virginia Home for Boys and Girls

Virginia Kids Belong

Virginia Poverty Law Center

Voices for Virginia’s Children

Virginia Creates First Ever Foster Care Caucus

Legislators from both sides of the aisle gathered Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 to show their support for much-needed changes to Virginia’s foster care system. The newly created Foster Care Caucus was hosted by co-chairs Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk and Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. The caucus hopes to raise awareness of the deficiencies within the foster care system, support the initial steps to implement the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, and bring structure and supports to the kinship diversion program. Read more about it here.

Delegate Emily Brewer and Senator Monty Mason announce the creation of the foster care caucus

Bills We Support

  • Post Adoption Contract HB1728 (Reid) requires the court to consider the appropriateness of a written post-adoption contact and communication agreement entered into in any case in which a child has been placed in foster care as a result of court commitment, an entrustment agreement or other voluntary relinquishment by the parent or parents, or in cases in which there is voluntary consent to the adoption of the child at a permanency planning hearing. Under current law, such consideration is discretionary. The bill further requires, for agency adoptions, the agency authorized to place the child for adoption to inform the birth and adoptive parents of a child that they may enter into a written post-adoption contract and communication agreement. The bill further requires a circuit court to approve a post-adoption contact and communication agreement authorized or entered into unless certain determinations are made or certain factors are present.
    • Update – The bill has passed out of the Senate and House of Delegates and awaits the Governor’s signature!
  • Foster care; security freeze on credit report  HB1730 (Brewer)/SB1253 (Reeves) requires local departments of social services to request the placement of a security freeze on the credit report or record of any child who has been in foster care for at least six months in order to prevent cases of identity theft and misuse of personal identifying information

    • Update – The House and Senate version has passed the Senate and House of Delegates and awaits the Governor’s signature!
    • BUDGET UPDATE: Both the House and Senate proposed budget includes the budget amendment for HB1730, which is $176,133 out of the general fund.
  • Foster Care Omnibus SB1339  (Reeves)- This bill makes numerous changes to the foster care statute. A full breakdown of the bill is posted here. 
    • Update: This bill was passed by for the day in House Appropriations subcommittee (money committee) on Health and Human Services. If the bill does not get heard by the beginning of next week, it may die. However, the bill language should be included in the final budget. This would mean all of the proposed changes would still happen.
    • BUDGET UPDATE: The fiscal impact of SB1339 was included in the Senate proposed budget. The cost is 1.8 million. 
  • Motor vehicle insurance policies; foster parents and foster children – HB1883 (Keam) prohibits an insurer from refusing to issue or failing to renew a motor vehicle insurance policy solely because of the status of the applicant or policyholder, as applicable, as a foster parent or minor in foster care.

    • Update: This bill has passed the Senate and House of Delegates and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
  • Family First Prevention Services Act  HB2014 (Peace)/SB1678 (Mason) aligns the Code of Virginia with the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018. You can read all about the Federal Act in our blog here.

    • Update: The House and Senate version have passed out of Senate and House of Delegates and awaits the Governor’s Signature!
    • Budget Update: The House included $851,000 in their proposed budget specifically for evidence based services while the Senate included $611,000 in theirs.
  • Kinship Care; Family Assessments HB2758 (Foy)/SB1720 (Mason) – Requires local boards of social services, when identifying foster care placement options, to (i) determine whether the child has any relatives who may be eligible to become a kinship foster parent, (ii) provide notice to such relatives of their potential eligibility to become a kinship foster parent, and (iii) explain to such relatives any opportunities they may have to participate in the placement and care of the child, including opportunities available through kinship foster care or kinship guardianship
    • Update – This Senate version has passed out of the Senate and House of Delegates and awaits the Governor’s Signature! 
    • Update – The House version passed unanimously out of the committee on Rehab and Social Services and awaits to be heard on the floor of the Senate. 
  • Higher educational institutions, public; tuition and fees, foster care youth HB2350 (Miyares) requires each associate degree-granting public institution of higher education (i.e., Richard Bland College and each comprehensive community college) and each baccalaureate public institution of higher education to provide a grant for the payment of tuition and certain fees for any Virginia student who (i) (a) has received a high school diploma or has passed a high school equivalency examination approved by the Board of Education and was in foster care or in the custody of the Department of Social Services or is considered a special needs adoption at the time such diploma or certificate was awarded or (b) was in foster care when he turned 18 and subsequently received a high school diploma or passed a high school equivalency examination approved by the Board of Education and (ii) meets certain other criteria.

    • Update – This bill passed out of Senate Education and Health and awaits to be heard in Senate Finance. 
  • Children’s Ombudsman, Office of the, and Children’s Advocacy Fund; HB2381 (Hurst) creates the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman to provide ombudsman services, including investigation of complaints, advocacy, and information for children, parents, and citizens involved with child-serving agencies, defined in the bill. The bill provides for the Office of the Governor to conduct a needs assessment with the Department of General Services to provide for the office space needs of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. The bill also creates the Children’s Advocacy Fund for the purpose of supporting the operations of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. The Fund would be funded in part by fines collected from criminal offenses involving a child.

    • Update – This bill was laid on the table (died) in the appropriations subcommittee on health and human resources. See you next year!

Budget Only Items

  • TANF Benefits Rate Increase of Five Percent – $3.2 Million (Senate only) – Voices supports an increase for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to help children in low-income families and because it the only financial resource available to kinship caregivers.
  • Develop Comprehensive Plan for TANF Program – Language Only (Senate only) – Proposes developing a plan for how to utilize the $100+ million on the TANF surplus.
  • Review of Foster Care Children in Congregate Care – Language Only (Senate only) – requires VDSS to review all cases of children in congregate care (group settings) without a clinical need to be there and assist local departments in finding appropriate family-based settings.
  • Foster Care Recruitment and Strategic Plan – Language Only (Senate only) – requires VDSS to develop a foster care recruitment and retention strategic plan with assistance from a work group of local department directors, foster parents, and local child placing agencies.
  • Forecast of TANF, Child Care, Foster Care, and Adoption Program – Language Only (House Only) – This requires the Department of Planning and Budget to convene a meeting with staff from the VDSS, House Appropriations, and Senate Finance to review trends and assumptions used in the forecase prior to their finalization. This is being asked because as the cost of living increases so does the payments to the services listed.

In the news:

Guest columnists- Children in Foster Care Deserve a Family  Richmond Times-Dispatch: Dec. 18, 2018

Foster Care System Has Needed Reform for Decades  Virginia Mercury: Jan. 16, 2019

New Caucus formed to Focus on Foster Care – Richmond Times-Dispatch: Jan. 16, 2019

Virginia Foster Care Failures Hit General AssemblyCapital News Service (ran in papers and news outlets across the Commonwealth): Jan. 16, 2019

Foster Care Issues with Virginia Poverty Law Center and Voices for Virginia’s ChildrenWRIR News: Jan. 21, 2019

Parents Share Struggle with Foster Care System as Lawmakers Push Efforts for Change  – ABC Channel 8 News WRIC:  Jan. 23, 2019

Social Service Legislation to Revamp Foster Care  — The Roanoke Times: Jan. 28, 2019

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