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Author Archives: Allison Gilbreath

  1. Governor Youngkin Amendments Add $5 Million for Foster Care

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    The Virginia General Assembly will have one more chance to improve foster care with Governor Youngkin’s proposed amendments to the budget. While the House and Senate accepted a budget compromise in June, Governor Youngkin has the opportunity to amend the budget and chose to make 35 amendments, including a proposal for an additional $5 million for the foster care system. House and Senate members will vote on each of the governor’s proposed amendments on June 17, 2022.

    The foster care amendments are the result of recent discussions among the members of the “Safe and Sound Task Force” formed in April. Voices serves on this task force along with government agencies, the Virginia League of Social Services executives, and other community partners to find shelter for children sleeping in local departments of social services, hotels, and emergency rooms. The task force is working to ensure placements for children entering foster care and is collaborating with other state agencies to help meet the needs of children and families.

    Safe and Sound Task Force meeting

    The proposed additions in the budget include:

    • $592,120 for five positions to support the development of collaborative partnerships between local departments of social services (DSS) to increase capacity to approve kinship caregivers and recruit, train, and develop locally approved foster parents. This effort will support HB653, patroned by Del. Wampler, to facilitate collaboration between local DSS.
    • $1.1 million to create an enhanced treatment foster care pilot program, commonly known as the Professional Foster Parent Model. This program will serve foster homes caring for high acuity children and provide participating foster families with an annual stipend of up to $45,000 per youth.
    • $200,000 to cover the costs of coordination, recruitment, and additional training to foster care agencies.
    • $3,000,000 to support the initiatives of the Safe and Sound Task Force including community-based treatments, support for kinship, foster and adoptive families, and trauma-informed care for children in foster care who are displaced or who are at risk of being displaced.

    These budget amendments were all recommended by the Safe and Sound Task Force which will continue to meet to address the current crisis in placement and the systems level changes needed to prevent children from entering foster care. As long-time advocates of improvements to Virginia’s foster care system, we are pleased to see these additional funds to address the on-going crisis within the system. We are especially pleased at the commitment to support Virginia’s kinship care families where the lack of investment in the past has especially burdened families of color. We urge the Virginia General Assembly to accept these amendments.

  2. Voices Recent Trip to the White House

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    In Creole’ (Black, Indigenous and French) families, it is common for someone in the family to have an ancestral gift of hearing or even seeing from their ancestors who have passed over – I have this unique gift in my family. For me, it appears most often in my keen intuition of knowing which way to go, what someone needs to hear, or a gut feeling to speak the truth. Four years ago, my ancestors came to me in a vivid vision giving me the idea to start a youth advocacy cohort, giving youth who directly experienced the systems I was working to change the opportunity to educate lawmakers directly with my support. I had been so frustrated sitting in meetings with people who had never spent a day in foster care, or experienced poverty, but had access to change these systems. Later that year, I was presented an opportunity to become a CHAMPS partner and with it came a grant opportunity with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to make the vision my ancestors showed me a reality.

    My social work student intern at the time was Sophia Booker, a former foster youth and advocate, currently working at UMFS, who was passionate about youth voice in the foster care system. Sophia was instrumental in making our very first cohort a success. She was not only a builder of the cohort with me, but a participant herself where she shared passionately her experience in care and how she’d like to see the system changed.

    Since then, Voices has continued to have youth advocacy days, expanding into all of our areas of focus. Ultimately, this has led us to building a permanent youth council at the organization that we are in the process of piloting.

    In the past three years, our youth advocacy cohorts have become more well known across the country as a model for how to engage youth voice in policy making. In mid-May, my partner with CHAMPS emailed that there was an opportunity for us to attend a White House roundtable discussion with the Domestic Policy Council to discuss foster care. In addition, they wanted me to identify a youth who could speak to their direct experience and give policy recommendations. I immediately contacted Sophia to see if she was interested, and who says no to the White House?

    The White House invited six states to their roundtable discussion. Knowing this made Sophia and I both feel incredibly special to have been chosen to be there. As we walked into the White House Diplomat room I closed my eyes and thought of my ancestors—I wondered, “is this what you saw for me when you came to give me the youth advocacy idea?” I could have never envisioned myself in this room then.

    Sophia and the other youth invited gave gut wrenching testimony on their experiences in the foster care system and what needs to change. Members of the council shed silent tears and we listened to their stories.

    Some of the highlights that I will never forget were:

    “My adoption lasted two weeks. That should NEVER happen.”

    “I had my son in my twenties and I lived with my entire family. In my indigenous culture that is normal, but social services was at my door wondering why there were so many people in the home. There is no understanding of culture.”

    “Kinship care can make a hopeless system into a hopeful system, but in order to do that, kinship families need resources. In New Jersey, we did a siblings bill of rights. My siblings were able to stay together because my grandmother took us all in, but most kids in foster care don’t get that opportunity.”

    “I lived in a religious foster care group home, but I’m Gay. They tried to tell me I wasn’t or change me and that caused tremendous trauma. So I’m advocating for LGBTQ+ youth because many of us experience homelessness, including me.”

    The White House Domestic Policy Council shared that the President is committed to investing in improvements to the Foster Care system, including making a $100 billion investment in the child welfare sector —focusing on prevention and kinship care. I am hopeful that there will be more opportunities to weigh in on these changes in the future and am more inspired than ever to continue listening to directly impacted individuals and give them the microphone to share their stories with lawmakers.

    The White House released this brief about the roundtable.

  3. General Assembly 2022: Child Welfare Wrap-Up

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    The Foster Care system has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last two years foster families have experienced greater financial stress, fewer foster parents have become trained, and turn over in the workforce has increased from already high levels. In some localities children have been sleeping in local department of social services offices while awaiting placement, resulting in the Governor calling a for a special “Safe and Sound” taskforce to address the urgent needs.

    We are encouraged by the final budget including many of the initial priorities for foster care that Governor Northam introduced in December. Beyond those policies, several new programs were funded targeting older youth in care  about to transition to adulthood. Ultimately, we still have a long way to go to properly fund our child welfare system.

    Here are the highlights of the budget for child welfare advocates:

    Investing in the Infrastructure of Child Welfare

    The instability of the foster care workforce and outdated technology are major challenges in Virginia’s child welfare system. According to a 2018 JLARC report, the quit rate for an entry-level Family Services Worker Specialist is 42%, with retention being an even greater issue in small, rural agencies.

    • 10% increase in staff and operations and Local Departments of Social Services over two years
    • $22 million for the replacement of the outdated child welfare data tracking system. Updated technology, along with updated training and child welfare courses, will allow social services to serve children and families more efficiently. This can reduce the length of time between a child entering foster care and finding permanent care through reunification, kinship care, or adoption.
    • $5 Million in mandated reinvestments to provide additional resources for ongoing mandated activities such as post adoption case management services, mutual family assessments, foster care and adoption services, and substance abuse services.

    Scale Up Evidence & Community-Based Practices to Achieve Better Outcomes for Children and Families

    • Funding to provide fidelity monitoring and evaluation of evidence‐based prevention services, appropriates federal Transition Act funding and fully funds salaries for allocated program position.

    Provide Social Supports & Easier Path for Kinship Caregivers

    • Funding for SB 396 provides that the court has the authority to review a foster care plan placement determination by a local board of social services
    • Funding for HB 653 Delegate Wampler which directs the Department of Social Services to establish and implement a collaborative local board placement program to increase kinship placements and the number of locally approved foster homes.
    • Increase to TANF Cash Assistance Allocation (impacts Kinship Families receiving child-only TANF) – 5% increase.

    Help Foster Care Youth Have Normal Adolescent Experiences

    Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth in foster care aging out without a permanent connection. Investments in this area are desperately needed to support transition age youth.

    • Funding for the development of the iFoster Care Portal, a free internet resource that includes education assistance and workforce development options, as well as independent living resources geared for young adults who have experienced foster care.
    • $1 Million to develop a state-funded grant program providing a range of funding for the Great Expectations Program in the following areas: the hiring of college coaches or mentors, housing stipends, child care, and transportation needs.
    • Budget language directing the State Higher Education Council to examine the feasibility of having a point of contact at each public institution of higher education for students who have been involved in the foster care system.

    Supporting the Efforts of the Safe and Sound Taskforce

    After the budget was reconciled, Governor Youngkin introduced these budget amendments  recommended by the Safe and Sound Task Force which will continue to meet to address the current crisis in placement and the systems level changes needed to prevent children from entering foster care.

    • $592,120 for five positions to support the development of collaborative partnerships between local departments of social services (DSS) to increase capacity to approve kinship caregivers and recruit, train, and develop locally approved foster parents. This effort will support HB653, patroned by Del. Wampler, to facilitate collaboration between local DSS.
    • $1.1 million to create an enhanced treatment foster care pilot program, commonly known as the Professional Foster Parent Model. This program will serve foster homes caring for high acuity children and provide participating foster families with an annual stipend of up to $45,000 per youth.
    • $200,000 to cover the costs of coordination, recruitment, and additional training to foster care agencies.
    • $3,000,000 to support the initiatives of the Safe and Sound Task Force including community-based treatments, support for kinship, foster and adoptive families, and trauma-informed care for children in foster care who are displaced or who are at risk of being displaced.
  4. Making HERstory: Inside My Trip to the White House

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    As a person who has always aspired to be a voice for children, being invited to the White House felt like a dream. Before I knew what the field of social work was, I decided at 11 years old that I would go to law school so that I could speak up for children. My passion is deeply personal as I have navigated the kinship foster care system myself and witnessed overwhelmed social workers first hand and at times, blatant racism that ran rampant in the child welfare system. Just before enrolling into law school, I was introduced to the field of social work and learned that there was a pathway for me to pursue my policy dreams with a concentration in macro social work.

    My role as Policy and Programs Director at Voices for Virginia’s Children has afforded me many opportunities to change the very systems I that impacted me as a child. In 2018, I gave birth to my son, Perry, and becoming a mother again shifted how I viewed child welfare and deepened my understanding of how economics and mental stress can impact a person’s ability to parent.

    My invitation to the White House happened quickly, I received a call on Wednesday and was there the following Tuesday. One of our national partners quickly submitted my name when the opportunity presented for families and advocates to meet with Secretary Beccera on pushing Build Back Better. As one of a few Black policy experts in child welfare, I have worked in conjunction with many national groups over the past six years. When the White House called (everyone wants to know if it was a private number but it wasn’t!), I was delighted to learn that they wanted me to bring my 4 year old son, Perry, with me when I attended the panel conversation. On a personal level, my partner and I have navigated obtaining an IEP for my son and in that process realized how difficult this would be for parents who do not have as much insider knowledge as I do. Even after my son started receiving services, I noted that for many working parents they would not be able to take the time off to get their children to therapies and could as a result have child protective services called for not complying with an IEP.

    On the day of the event, my son and I made the trip to Washington DC using the Amtrak, which was the highlight of the experience for my son! The question I have been asked most is, “how did we arrive at the White House?” or “did they send us a personal car?” As simple as it sounds, we took a ride share from Union Station straight to the security check point in front of the White House. A wonderful staffer escorted us through a very thorough security process with the secret service and then we were inside! They took us straight to the room the roundtable discussion would be held in and I quickly noticed there were only yoga mats on the floor for the children. As a now mom of two young children, I pulled out my giant blanket and offered to lay it on the floor for my son and the other three children who had attended. I had also brought a bin of toys for my son to play with on the train and I dumped it out on the floor as well.

    Participants’ children play on the floor at the White House as we awaited the roundtable beginning.

    The White House roundtable was hosted by members of the Biden-Harris Administration: Secretary Xavier Becerra, Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein, and Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility, Carmel Martin. Meeting the Secretary of Health and Human Services and other key officials felt easy in comparison to being a mom that day. I was more nervous that my son would scream or shout than what I would say during the roundtable. But to my delight, Secretary Becerra was incredibly personable, especially to our children. I will never forget my son saying, “I’m ready to go home now”, just as the camera was going live! I offered him a Reeses peanut butter cup as a reward for waiting a little bit longer.

    When the roundtable started, I was asked about affordability for child care. The reality is that for me and many other families, child care is more than my mortgage, a lot more. There are two truths in affordable early childhood education—parents can’t afford to pay any more and educators can’t afford to earn any less. The math doesn’t work unless one side has to make up the difference. This is why a public investment in our system is so important, support needs to be provided for care to be affordable to parents and to attract a high quality workforce.

    This trip was incredibly special to me, mainly because I got to share the experience with my son. I do not know if he will remember this trip, or if he will only remember being on a “choo choo train”, but I am already smiling thinking about the memories I will get to share with him as he gets older. My son’s life has made a profound difference in the way I do my work. While some may doubt the positive impact motherhood has on employment, I know that being a mom has improved my work efficiency and my compassion. It is my greatest hope that one day my son and daughter will look at the pictures below and know their mom was a part of making historic investments to improve the lives of children and their families.

    Watch the full conversation on youtube:

  5. Guest Blog: Keys to Destination for Youth in Foster Care

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    This is a guest blog post written for Voices for Virginia’s Children by Susan Hoover (pictured below).

    Recall the day you obtained your driver’s license. Perhaps one of your parents took you to the DMV, helped you fill out the necessary forms, provided the requisite identification, and off you went to pass or fail the final test. Assuming you passed, all you wanted to do then was hop in the family car and drive somewhere. It didn’t matter where, right?

    Now imagine having your new-found freedom abruptly curtailed as the cost of insurance to cover your driving is too high for the family budget. Although many parents bite the bullet and add their new driver to the family auto insurance plan, it is at a hefty cost, especially when the driver is less than 25 years old.

    Nationwide, Americans spend about 2.44% of their household income on car insurance every year. In Virginia, the average cost of car insurance is $1,304 per year for full coverage.  Of course, the actual rate depends on many factors, such as the area where one lives, the age of the driver, driving history (if any), the specific insurance company, and even the type of vehicle to be driven.

    As expected, having a young driver means paying a premium for auto insurance, particularly for those drivers between 16-18 years old. In addition to the factors listed above, insurance companies also take into account the high average number of accidents and traffic-related fatalities for that age range when determining rates. It costs a lot to insure these new drivers – often more than those living in the low to middle income range can afford.

    Now consider whether the new driver is currently a part of the state foster care system. In this case, more often than not, financial means are already stretched. So how can the youth or the foster family possibly add the additional cost of more car insurance to their budget?

    Enter proposed Budget Amendment SB30.

    This amendment, coming before the 2022 Session, enables the Department of Social Services to develop and implement a statewide driver’s licensing program to support foster care youth. In effect, funding – in the proposed amount of $200,000 each year – will be made available to local departments of social services to reimburse:

    • Foster care providers for the increase to their existing motor vehicle insurance premium that occurs when adding foster care youth to their insurance policy;
    • Foster care providers when they apply for and obtain additional coverage, such as an umbrella policy, to provide liability protection should the foster care youth get into, or cause, a catastrophic accident; and
    • Foster care youth who are part of Virginia’s Fostering Futures Program to assist them in covering the cost of obtaining their own motor vehicle insurance.

    The Amendment further allows for:

    Each department of social services to develop educational or training materials that “educate foster parents, private providers, and foster youth about: (i) liability issues, insurance laws, and common insurance practices (to include laws about renewal and cancellation, how long an accident can affect premiums, how to establish that a foster youth is no longer living in the residence, and other applicable topics); (ii) DMV requirements to obtain a learner’s permit and driver’s license; (iii) what funding and resources are available to assist in this process, to include paying school lab fees for “Behind the Wheel” or paying a private driving education company; and (iv) why getting a driver’s license on time is important for normalcy and a successful transition to adulthood.”

    The benefits of this Amendment would be immediate for foster families and for the youth they care for. The financial burden of increased car insurance would be lifted, and the new driver would have the ability to drive to a job, school, or to assist with errands. It would help encourage a sense of responsibility, independence, and maturity for these youth.

    For those youth in the Fostering Futures Program, passing this Amendment could significantly lessen the transportation burden many of them face. The possibility of owning or driving a car, rather than be dependent upon public transportation – its time tables and the specific geographic area it serves – broadens the job market and the ability to attend higher education institutions – two requirements of involvement in the Fostering Futures program.

    About Susan Hoover: Sue Hoover joined Piedmont CASA in April 2019. Previously, she worked for CFA Institute as the editor of Connexions, and as the digital editor of the Enterprising Investor blog. She holds a BA degree from Lehigh University and a JD degree from the Washington College of Law, American University.

    Contact Susan at: shoover@pcasa.org

     

     

  6. Bill Explainer: SB 56 – Foster Care Prevention Program (Senator Favola)

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    Senator Favola, Chair of the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, has introduced SB 56 to create a foster care prevention program in Virginia. The purpose of the program is to facilitate placements with relatives and ensure that these relatives are provided with the resources necessary to care for the children. Virginia has significantly increased kinship placements in the past few years, going from 5 percent of overall placements in 2016 to 18 percent in 2021 with the national average being around 30 percent. These increased placements have occurred because of several advancements such as, the creation of the kinship guardianship assistance program, creation of a kinship only TANF financial assistance fund, and kin first guidance from the Virginia Department of Social Services. The bill passed unanimously out of committee and is now waiting to be picked up in Senate Finance where the financial impact of the bill will be reviewed.

    The bill would do the following:

    • A child is considered eligible for the foster care prevention program if:
      • The child is in the custody of a relative by a court order; The child’s parent or guardian voluntarily placed the child with such relative; The child demonstrates a strong attachment to the relative, and the relative has a strong commitment to caring for the child; and Had the relative not agreed to take custody of the child, the local department likely would have filed a petition with the court to remove the child from the home of his parent or guardian due to an imminent threat of child abuse or neglect
    • If a child is deemed eligible, the local department and the relative who has custody of an eligible child will enter into a written agreement with the Department. The agreement will include provisions regarding the amount of each Foster Care Prevention program payment. In addition, the local department will determine if the kin, in addition to financial assistance, needs ongoing case management services.
    • Foster Care Prevention program payments will be no more than the foster care maintenance payments that the relative would receive if the relative was the child’s foster parent, reduced by any monthly payments received through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

    *For purposes of this section, “relative” means an adult who is either related to the child by blood, marriage, adoption or fictive kin of the child.*

    How to Show Your Support

    While we await the estimated cost of the program to be generated, we want to make sure legislators know individuals are in support of the proposed program.

    Complete this action alert and add your custom message to urge support for SB 56. 

  7. 2021 Legislative Session: Advocating for Kids in Child Welfare (Updated 2/26/2021)

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    In the 2020 legislative session, a number of key advancements were made for children and families in foster care, however these investments were almost all put on hold due to the pandemic. The pandemic created more challenges in day-to-day activities for foster and kinship caregivers, as well as child welfare professionals. Many children entering the foster care system have experienced adversity and trauma, leaving them more vulnerable to the changes that come with school closings, lack of daily contact with friends and mentors, and other forms of social distancing. Virginia’s local department of social services has seen a decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect but expects a sharp increase as schools reopen. The child welfare system often feels immediate and long-term impacts from an economic downturn with more demands for services and increased parental stress.

    Our 2021 legislative priorities were developed in partnership with members on our Foster Care Policy Network (listed below) and individuals who have lived experience in Virginia’ foster care system. Our areas of priority this legislative session are:

    • Scale up evidence and community based services to achieve better outcomes for children and families, particular those vulnerable to entering the system.
    • Provide social supports to kinship caregivers
    • Help foster care youth have normal adolescent experiences

    View our full 2021 2021 Foster Care Unified Agenda

    Foster Care Equity Statement

    Voices for Virginia’s Children produced our first-ever equity impact statements for the 2021 legislative session. Here you will find data and talking points on the equity impact of the issues we are advocating on. View the full statement here.

    Bills We Support

    Please check this page regularly for frequent updates on bill status and new bills.

    • Supporting “Kin First” |HB1962 | Delegate Gooditis |  Requires local departments of social services and licensed child-placing agencies to involve in the development of a child’s foster care plan the child’s relatives and fictive kin who are interested in the child’s welfare. The bill requires that a child 12 years of age or older be involved in the development of his foster care plan; under current law, a child’s involvement is mandatory upon reaching 14 years of age. The bill contains other amendments to provisions governing foster care and termination of parental rights that encourage the placement of children with relatives and fictive kin.
      • Update: This bill has passed and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program |SB1328| Senator 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. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.

      • Update: This bill has passed, was included in the budget, and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • Court Appointed Special Advocates Sharing Information and Participating in Meetings |HB1866| Delegate Delaney |  Permits court-appointed special advocates to participate in and share information with family partnership meetings and in meetings of family assessment and planning teams, multidisciplinary child sexual abuse response teams, individualized education program teams, and multidisciplinary teams related to child abuse.
      • Update: This bill passed and awaits the Governor’s signature!
    • CSA Implementation and Monitoring | HB2212 | Delegate Plum | Requires the director of the Office of Children’s Services to provide for the effective implementation of the Children’s Services Act
      • Update: This bill passed and awaits the Governor’s signature! 

    Budget Items 

    The following are items included in the Final Proposed Budget that awaits the Governor’s signature: 

    • Funding Local Department of Social Service Positions for Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act | $16 mill over two years |- Appropriate federal funds for local staff and operations – Increases the appropriation for federal pass through funding for local departments of social services
    • Funding statewide Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) prevention services program |$14.2 mill | funds to scale up evidence based services for children and families to prevent entry into foster care
    • Implementing emergency approval process for kinship caregivers | $75,000 | – Funds an emergency approval process for kinship caregivers. Children in the foster care system often move from placement to placement and this process will help place children with eligible kin.
    • Casework Salary Increases | Restores $2.2 million | each year from the general fund and $2.2 million each year from nongeneral funds for local social services departments’ (LDSS) to increase minimum salary levels for LDSS family services by 20 percent, and to increase minimum salary levels for benefit program services, self sufficiency services and administrative positions by 15 percent that are currently below the new minimum threshold. These actions should assist in reducing the high turnover and vacancy rates in these LDSS positions.
    • Extended payments for those aging out of Fostering Futures | Adds language to extend payments to children aging out of the Fostering Futures program through September 2021. The recently passed federal Coronavirus Relief and Response Supplemental Appropriations  Act has extended the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood funding through September 2021
    • Diversion Program for Kinship Families | Adds language directing the Department of Social Services to create a diversion program supporting relative and fictive kin families who receive custody of a child from the court and report the steps to implement such program to the Commission on Youth by November 30, 2021.

     

  8. Child Welfare in the House and Senate Budgets

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    In a year with extraordinary budgetary challenges, the House and Senate “money committees” released their recommended changes to the Governor’s proposed budget on February 10. In good news, they retained the initial investments made for children and families impacted by the child welfare system from the Governor’s budget but did not act on all the budget amendment requests we and other partners had hoped for. Below is a breakdown on the proposed budget and a request to email your legislator to help us make the most gains for children and families involved in child welfare systems.

    Foster Care Workforce

    Turnover rates for entry-level family service worker specialists are 61 percent, with retention efforts being an even greater issue in small, rural agencies. The House and Senate both proposed a 20% increase in salaries, just over $4 million over two years.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Kinship Care

    The House and Senate retained budget language to direct the Department of Social Services to develop a plan to provide a statewide Kinship Navigator Program which will provide services to kinship caregivers who are having trouble finding assistance for their unique needs and to help these caregivers navigate their locality’s service system, as well as federal and state benefits. Unfortunately, they did not include funding to start the program.

    The Senate included funding for Senator Mason’s SB1328 State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program.  The bill expands eligibility criteria for the existing KinGAP program (allows for children under age 14 and have spent less time than currently required in their relative placement) that uses federal dollars, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.

    The House and Senate kept the $75,000 investment to implement emergency approval process for kinship caregivers. Children in the foster care system often move from placement to placement and this process will help place children with eligible kin.

    The Senate included budget language directing the Department of Social Services to study creating a formal diversion program supporting relative and fictive kin families who have received temporary physical and legal custody maximizing state and federal funding to provide a payment to relative and fictive kin families who have temporary custody through a court order.

    Preventing Child Welfare Involvement

    The House and Senate retained the Governor’s proposed budget allotment for funding for local Department of Social Service positions for implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act with $16 million over two years for local staff and operations. Additionally, they kept $14.2 million to scale up evidence-based services for children and families to prevent entry into foster care.

    Extending Foster Care Payments for Aged Out Youth

    The Senate included language and funding to draw down federal dollars to extend foster care payments for youth who turn 18 while in foster care beyond age 21 throughout the duration of the pandemic.

    Changes to the Children’s Services Act

    The House included funding for HB 2212 Plan for Effective Implementation of CSA. This requires the director of the Office of Children’s Services to provide for the effective implementation of the Children’s Services Act (§ 2.2-5200 et seq.) in all localities by (i) regularly monitoring local performance measures and child and family outcomes; (ii) using audit, performance, and outcomes data to identify local programs that need technical assistance; and (iii) working with local programs that are consistently underperforming to develop a corrective action plan for submission to the Office and the State Executive Council for Children’s Services.

  9. Recap: Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Day

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    On January 27th, Voices hosted its second annual “Uplifting Young Voices: Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Day”. Due to the pandemic, we shifted our efforts to meet the virtual legislative session like many other advocacy organizations. This change did not stop our dynamic group of young people from having their voices heard!

    2021 Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Cohort

    Derek Lem
    Eva Elliyoun
    Brianna Scott
    Kamaria Wilburn
    Fariha Rahman
    Christopher Mavity

    We are grateful for this group for their willingness to share their stories with legislatures with the hope of changing the lives of other children still in foster care.

    Policy Priorities

    The youth highlighted the 2021 Foster Care Unified Agenda and the need to address systemic racism within the foster care system. They highlighted the growing need to invest in the foster care workforce, specifically highlighting the impact of having multiple caseworkers as children in foster care. The group agreed that for those who aged out the challenge of having a caseworker with a large caseload impacted their ability to achieve permanency or build a transition plan for when they turned 18.

    Legislative Visits

    Youth meeting with Delegate Karrie Delaney and staff.“ We’ve seen enough, we don’t want any other kid to go through what we went through.” – Eva, Youth Advocate

     

    Youth discussing policy priorities with Brendon, staff to Delegate Wendy Gooditis. “I feel pretty confident. The people we met with were engaged and took the time to listen to us.” — Chris

     

    Meeting with Delegate Sickles (Chair of Appropriations) and staff. “It’s a lot to be humbled by our traumas and help each other.” –  Fariha

    What’s Next

    Youth in the cohort will be invited to participate in a policy roundtable with current lawmakers and candidates for office after the legislative session to help build priorities for the 2022 legislative session and the next gubernatorial administration.

  10. 2021 General Assembly Session: Foster Care Priorities

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    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.

    Pressing Needs in Virginia

    In the 2020 legislative session, a number of key advancements were made for children and families in foster care, however these investments were almost all put on hold due to the pandemic. The pandemic created more challenges in day-to-day activities for foster and kinship caregivers, as well as child welfare professionals. Many children entering the foster care system have experienced adversity and trauma, leaving them more vulnerable to the changes that come with school closings, lack of daily contact with friends and mentors, and other forms of social distancing. Virginia’s local department of social services has seen a decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect but expects a sharp increase as schools reopen. The child welfare system often feels immediate and long-term impacts from an economic downturn with more demands for services and increased parental stress.

    Scale Up Evidence & Community-Based Practices to Achieve Better Outcomes for Children and Families

    • Reallot funding towards implementing the federal Family First Prevention Services Act. The Family First Prevention Services Act is the first transformation of the child welfare system in nearly 40 years and provides an opportunity to invest in prevention through evidence-based and trauma-informed services. To support implementation, we must add additional leadership positions at the Department of Social Services, invest in the infrastructure to scale up evidence-based services, and provide funding to help residential treatment centers to implement a higher standard or care.
    • Prioritize access to child care assistance for children at-risk of entering foster care. Currently families involved in CPS or CPS on-going cases are considered a “priority” eligibility category. They are not guaranteed care but are given a priority. In addition, families that fall outside of those formal designations and are still CPS-involved, such as kinship arrangements, may be eligible to apply but are not guaranteed assistance Adding language in the code that gives clear priority access to child care assistance funds for children 0-13 in any cases where families are receiving kinship caregiver financial assistance, prevention services are being provided, or the family is involved in CPS or CPS-ongoing services.

    Provide Social Supports to Kinship Caregivers

    • Bring social supports to the kinship diversion program, an effort designed to avoid foster care by facilitating placements with relatives by creating a statewide kinship navigator program. Provide funding to VDSS to develop a statewide Kinship Navigator program in Virginia, which will provide information, resource, and referral services to children and kin caregivers. Kinship navigator programs offer help to kinship providers and the public in areas such as financial assistance, legal referrals, education and support groups, basic needs, child care and respite, and outreach and public education. Many kinship navigator programs also assist caregivers in obtaining copies of birth certificates, social security cards, immunization records, and any documents needed for the school registration of a child.
    • Eliminate barriers to kinship caregivers becoming licensed foster parents by amending the barrier crime statue. One commonly articulated reason about why the percentage of kinship foster care has remained so low in Virginia compared to the rest of the nation, is that Virginia’s list of barrier crimes is extensive. A barrier crime is a crime set forth in statute that explicitly disqualifies a person from foster care or kinship foster care. Federal law sets the baseline for barrier crimes standards that states must follow in setting up their foster care program in order to be eligible for Title IV-E funds. They also have a limited list of barrier crimes that states must comply with, as well as a short list of crimes for which an exception may be granted after five years.

    Help Foster Care Youth have Normal Adolescent Experiences

    • Request the Commission on Youth to study workforce outcomes for youth in care. Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth in foster care aging out without a permanent connection. We lack data on the educational and employment outcomes for this population. The study would provide the state with recommendations moving forward.

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