Voices’ Blog

2020 Legislative Session Advocating For Kids In Foster Care (Updated Feb. 21st)

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

Foster care is a state-run program that provides temporary care for children who cannot live with their parents or other relatives. Through this system, the local department of social services takes legal custody of a child when a parent or parents are unable to care for him or her, most often because of neglect and/or abuse. Placement of a child in foster care should be temporary and family based, when possible, until a more permanent connection is made. Preferred options include working with families to improve conditions in order to return children to their homes, placement with a relative, or adoption.

The Foster Care Unified Agenda is created 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.

In 2019, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission on foster care study revealed Virginia’s longstanding failings in Virginia’s foster care system. It showed a lack of adherence to requirements in some cases, a need to place more children in family-based foster care settings (including kinship care), high caseloads, and a 40% turnover rate in the workforce. In 2019, the legislature made several sweeping reforms to the foster care system. However, this year the foster care unified agenda is focused on continuing momentum and advancing needed financial investments into foster care.

Members Include:


Bills We Support:

  • School enrollment former foster care | SB275 | Barker | Provides for the immediate enrollment of any student who was in foster care upon reaching 18 years of age but who has not yet reached 22 years of age for whom the local department of social services or child-placing agency is unable to produce documents normally required for enrollment. 
    • Update: This bill has passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
  • Codify fostering futuresSB156/HB400 | Favola & Keam | Establishes the Fostering Futures program to provide services and support to individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 who were in foster care as a minor and are transitioning to full adulthood and self-sufficiency. (this program has been running since 2016 through budget language, this would put the program in law)
    • Update: Both versions have passed the General Assembly and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
  • Post-adoption contact and communication agreements; involuntary termination of parental rights |HB721 | Reid | Provides that a child’s birth parent or parents for whom parental rights were involuntarily terminated may enter into a post-adoption contact and communication agreement with the child’s pre-adoptive parent or parents.
    • Update: This bill has passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
  • Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; eligibility; fictive kin | HB933 & SB178 | Brewer, Carroll-Foy, & Mason | Expands eligibility for the Kinship Guardianship Assistance program by allowing payments to be made to fictive kin who receive custody of a child of whom they had been the foster parent.
    • Update: Both bills have passed the General Assembly and await the Governor’s signature! 
  • State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; created. | HB920 & SB570 | Brewer & Mason | Creates the State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program (the program) to facilitate child placements with relatives, including fictive kin, and ensure permanency for children in foster care. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.

    • Update: The House version was laid on the table (died) in House Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee 
    • Update: The Senate version funding was included in the Senate proposed budget. The bill passed out of the social services subcommittee of Health, Welfare, and Institutions was sent to the money committee. Funding for this bill was not included in the House budget so money committee members will have to go into a meeting to determine if this will be included in the final budget. 
  • Office of the Children’s Ombudsman established | HB1301 | Hurst | Establishes the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman as a means of effecting changes in policy, procedure, and legislation; educating the public; investigating and reviewing actions of the State Department of Social Services, local departments of social services, child-placing agencies, or child-caring institutions; and monitoring and ensuring compliance with relevant statutes, rules, and policies pertaining to children’s protective services and the placement, supervision, treatment, and improvement of delivery of care to children in foster care and adoptive homes. The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is headed by the Children’s Ombudsman, who is appointed for a term of four years by the Governor and subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. 
    • Update: This bill passed out of Senate General Laws and was sent to the Senate money committee. Funding for the Ombudsman office was included in the House budget but not in the Senate budget. Members of the money committee will go into conference to determine if funding will be included in the final budget. 
  • Guardian ad litem for children; certification of compliance with certain standards | HB137 | Collins | Requires guardians ad litem appointed to represent a child in a matter to conduct an investigation in compliance with certain standards. The bill requires a guardian ad litem to file with the court, along with any attorney representing a party or party proceeding pro se, a certification of the guardian ad litem’s compliance with such standards, specifically addressing such standards requiring face-to-face contact with the child. The bill further requires the guardian ad litem to document the hours spent satisfying such face-to-face contact requirements and specifies that compensation for such contact shall be at the same rate as that for in-court service.

    • Update: This bill has passed out of the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature! 

  • Kinship foster care; training and approval processes | SB1025 | Dunnavant |Requires local boards of social services to request a waiver of training requirements necessary for the approval of a kinship foster parent upon determining that training requirements are a barrier to placement with the kinship foster parent and that such placement is in the child’s best interest. The bill prohibits local boards from requiring that a child be removed from the physical custody of a kinship foster parent during such approval process. The bill requires the Department of Social Services to (i) develop a training program that is tailored to persons seeking approval as a kinship foster parent, (ii) develop a document that provides comprehensive information regarding kinship foster care, and (iii) provide training to local boards regarding the process through which a person may be approved as a kinship foster parent without requiring removal of the child from the physical custody of such person.

    • Update: This bill has passed out of Health, Welfare, and Institutions committee and awaits to be read on the House floor. 

Budget Items We Support:

For a more comprehensive update on where items stand in the budget, visit our blog.

  • In the Governor’s Proposed Budget

    • $18 Million over two years to increase family service specialists position salaries 20%
    • $22 Million over two years spread across child welfare system improvements (technology improvements, etc.)
    • $16 Million over two years to provide relatives support payments for relatives caring for children outside of foster care (first time ever!)
    • $66 Million over 2 years to provide funding to local departments of social services to begin hiring staff and creating their prevention services departments in response to FFPSA
    • $4 Million over 2 years to fund start up fees, program development, curriculum materials, and implementation and sustainability supports for evidence based programming through the FFPSA
    • $5 Million over 2 years to fund positions to create an evidence-based programs evaluation team
    • $33 Million over 2 years to provide evidence based and trauma-informed mental health, substance use disorder, and in-home parent skill based training to children at imminent risk of entering foster care.
  • Budget Amendments:

    • Driver’s License Program for Foster Care Youth | $250,000 | Item 354 #6 (Keam) & 354#9s (Favola)  – a proposed amendment that would provide the Virginia Department of Social Services funds to provide reimbursements to foster care parents for increases to their car insurance for foster youth, provide youth with reimbursements, and provide assistance to youth in fostering futures assistance with car insurance premiums

      • Update: This budget amendment was included in the Senate budget but not the House. This means members of the money committees will determine if it gets included in the final budget. 
    • Training Academy Model for Family Services Programs | $1.9 Million |  Item 359#2h (Bulova) & 359#1s (Marsden) – (This amendment adds $200,000 the first year and $1.7 million the second year from the general fund and a like amount of federal matching dollars for the Department of Social Services to create a Training Academy Model for family services specialists working in the family services programs. The funding is phased in with the first phase funding providing for five curriculum developers to update current training modules and design a more efficient and up-to-date training program. The second phase would fully implement the Training Academy Model providing for 31 positions including 15 trainers, 10 coaches, five curriculum developers, and one supervisor. The current training takes workers two years to complete, however, they may carry significant caseloads before they have received the training and the initial training does not prepare workers to handle demanding and complicated caseloads. This is a recommendation of the Commission on Youth.)

      • Update: This budget amendment was adjusted to 1 Million and was only included in the Senate budget. This means members of the money committees will determine if it gets included in the final budget. 
    • Child Welfare Stipend Program | $1 Million | Item 354#3s (Favola) & 354#5h (Mullin) –  The Child Welfare Stipend Program (CWSP) is a partnership between the Virginia Department of Social Services and five universities. This specialized training program, funded through Title IV-E prepares social work students for a career in child welfare. Because of Title IV-E funding rules, stipend program workers must spend at least 51 percent of their time in foster care/adoption work. This is a barrier to many rural departments because they do not have positions that work 51 percent in that area. As a result, small rural agencies do not benefit from the stipend program as they cannot hire stipend graduates. These local departments have a turnover rate of 61 percent. In order to help stabilize the child welfare workforce, a state-funded stipend program is needed to help support smaller agencies. Stipends have the potential to increase the stability and quality of the child welfare workforce by providing education incentives to encourage social work students to specialize in child welfare. Students accepted into this program receive a $10,000 stipend per academic year.
      • Update: This was not included in the House or Senate budget. 


In the News:

Kinship care’ foster families would get money in proposed budgetVirginia Mercury: December 19, 2019

Foster Care Caucus plans to build on momentum in its second legislative session – Richmond Times Dispatch – January 15, 2020

Lawmakers Want to Help Foster Care Youth Get Driver’s LicensesVPM – February 6, 2020

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