For the past few years in our child welfare work, we’ve been focused on a longer-term plan to bring “better best practices” to two policy areas: issues faced by older youth in foster care and the use of kinship care in both informal and formal capacities. During this year’s General Assembly session, Voices–along with our child welfare advocacy partners FACES of Virginia Families and the Virginia Poverty Law Center–has asked legislators to introduce legislation in both of these areas. We’ll be actively advocating on these specific bills and budget items, and also lending our voice in support of some additional measures put forth this year by others.
Older Youth in Foster Care & Youth Who Have “Aged Out” of Care:
Since 2008, more than 4350 youth have “aged out” of Virginia’s foster care system, meaning they have turned 18 while still in care and without having been connected to permanent families through adoption, returning home to parents, or having custody transferred to a relative. Young people who “age out” of foster care face considerable risks and challenges, more so than most of their peers not in care, including increased risks of: homelessness, unemployment, school drop-out, health problems, and involvement in the criminal justice system.
In an effort to reduce these risks and offer these young people more support during this critical transition from youth to adulthood, Voices brought a policy initiative to the McDonnell administration that would expand foster care services to youth who have “aged out” of care up to age 21, to include increased support for housing and case management, among other benefits. Governor McDonnell included our recommendations in his outgoing budget, which now exists as the budget bill for this year’s legislative session (SB 30 & HB 30).
Voices, along with our advocacy partners, will be working to preserve this funding in the budget, and will also be supporting a companion bill introduced by Senator Favola, SB 277, which directs the Virginia Department of Social Services to opt in to this “extension of foster care services to age 21” and provide quarterly progress reports to the General Assembly on this effort.
This new program will also extend adoption assistance benefits to youth who are adopted out of foster care at age 16 or older, which will also keep an important focus on older-youth adoptions and increase the number of foster youth connected with families.
Medicaid Eligibility for Youth “Aging Out” of Foster Care
Del. McClellan and Del. Peace (Item 301 #6h), as well as Sen. Howell (Item 301 #18s), put in budget language at our request that would allow Medicaid eligibility for youth who aged out of foster care in another state, but now reside in Virginia. This effort would mirror the Affordable Care Act mandate that provides such eligibility for all foster youth living in the Commonwealth who age out of our own foster care system. By closing this loophole, Virginia would stand at the forefront of providing critical protections for these vulnerable youth, recognizing this population is often very mobile, living without safe, consistent housing, and lacking family connections that would entitle them to coverage under a parent’s private insurance.
We’re also working on SB 284, which would direct the Virginia Department of Social Services to establish regulations around the practice of “kinship diversion.” Through “diversion,” children move in with relatives and “fictive kin” after social workers determine they cannot safely remain with their parents. Social workers facilitate these informal placements, working with the parent and kinship caregiver.
Problems can arise because no court oversees these physical custody transfers, and neither the parent nor the child is appointed an attorney for advice. In some cases, children remain with relatives for years; parents may have little or no knowledge of how to get their children home and there is no requirement that a plan be developed to attempt to reunite the children with their parents. Relatives caring for these children have little or no access to the financial support and services that licensed relative foster parents receive and usually lack information about how to access services for the child.
We believe that regulations will help to support best practices for kinship diversion, and ensure those best practices are used throughout the state.
This bill provides an additional layer of protection for licensed kinship foster families who have relative children placed with them by ensuring that before relative children are removed from the kinship home for non-safety reasons, either a family partnership meeting or a judicial review of the placement change must occur first, to ensure that removing the child is truly in his or her best interests. We know that using kinship care is best practice in child welfare, and aim to provide a bit more stability to its use through this effort.
We’ll keep you updated on these and other child welfare-related bills this session! And please let us know if you have any questions or feedback–email Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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