Voices’ Blog

Child Welfare: 2020 Special Session Update

Posted:  -  By: Allison Gilbreath

The pandemic has 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 when schools reopen. However, child mental and sexual abuse have increased over the last year and teachers are starting to get training on how to refer children to CPS in a virtual setting. The child welfare system often feels immediate and long-term impacts from an economic downturn with more demands for services and increased parental stress

The governor called the General Assembly back to Richmond in late August for a special session –originally meant for only two weeks! – to deal with the significant impact on the budget caused by the coronavirus pandemic. During the 2020 session that ended in March, Voices, along with many strong partners and advocates, worked to include nearly $90 million in new spending for child welfare. Unfortunately, the governor put all new investments on hold to be dealt with in Special Session.

Earlier in October, the Virginia House and Senate approved a compromise budget and sent it to the governor for approval. While the governor is waiting until after Election Day to sign the budget, we anticipate it will include these items. The Virginia Department of Social Services is preparing to roll-out new initiatives to prevent children from coming in to foster care and to support kinship caregivers.

Special Session Impacts on Child Welfare

  • Prevention services funding restored –The Family First Prevention Services Act reforms Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, the federal child welfare financing streams that provide services to families at risk of entering the child welfare system. The act aims to prevent children from entering foster care by allowing federal reimbursement for mental health services, substance use treatment, and in-home parenting skill training before children are removed from their home. It also seeks to improve the well-being of children already in foster care by providing incentives to states to reduce payment of children in congregate care.
    • Budget outcome: The final budget includes $8.5 million of restored funding to support local departments of social services implement of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) beginning in July 2021.
  • New kinship care financial incentive established – The final budget maintained $16 million to provide increased financial support payments for relatives caring for children outside of foster care. The increased payments would only be available for children entering kinship care after July 1, 2020. The program roll-out was delayed, however the application will be available to families begin in November 2020 with payments being available retroactively to July.
    •   Budget outcome: Families will receive an additional $200 per child through this program, in addition to the child-only TANF amounts they can currently receive. Any kinship caregiver who currently receives financial assistance through TANF will see their monthly payments increase by 15 percent even if they do not qualify for the new kinship care incentive.

Looking Ahead to 2021

In the next legislative session, we intend to advocate for continued investments for community-based prevention funding, removing barriers to kinship care, and taking necessary action to address the child welfare workforce issues.

Voices is home to the Virginia Foster Care Policy Network where we work to create a unified agenda for children and families impacted by the child welfare system. We send our gratitude to many of our partners who have continued to serve children and families on the front lines during this pandemic. We are especially grateful for those directly impacted by our child welfare system who have helped us shape our agenda for the last several years. Join our network by contacting our Policy and Programs Director, Allison at allison@vakids.org.

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