Foster Care 2019 Legislative Agenda & Talking Points
Foster care is a state-run program that provides temporary care for children who cannot live with their family of origin. 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.
A Vision for Virginia
The Foster Care Legislative Agenda is created by partners 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. It builds off the successes of the 2018 legislative session and the legislative focus on foster care as evidenced by the Family First Prevention Services Act, the just released JLARC report on foster care, and the Commission on Youth’s study on barriers to youth in foster care obtaining a driver’s license.
Left to right: Del. Riley Ingram, Allison Gilbreath of Voices, and Christy Horsley of CASA Central Virginia listen to foster care graduate Carl Price.
The 2019 Foster Care Legislative Agenda is focused on the following initiatives:
- Support the initial steps to implement 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 of care.
- Reduce barriers and pave the way for youth in foster care to obtain driver’s licenses. Nationally, only 3% of youth in foster care obtain a driver’s license while in care, compared to 63% of their peers. To remove the barriers, advocates support the Commission on Youth’s recommendation to reimburse foster parents, kinship caregivers, and youth in Fostering Futures for their insurance premiums. In addition, protections should be put in place so that foster parents cannot be denied coverage because of their status as foster parents. In order to effectively implement these changes, the Virginia Department of Social Services should be funded to implement these initiatives.
- Bring structure and additional supports to the kinship diversion program, an effort designed to avoid foster care by facilitating placements with relatives and supports to relative foster care placements. To ensure the financial stability of relative caregivers, Virginia should increase monthly payments for child-only TANF, one of the only funding streams available for low-income kinship caregivers. Although studies show that the best family for a foster child is a relative foster family, Virginia’s rate of relative foster families is less than a third of the national average. Advocates support language added to the code of Virginia that will require LDSS’s to prioritize family placement for children who are entering foster care. To better understand where children are in relative kinship placements, advocates also support a requirement to track data on children diverted from foster care.
- Freeze credit for children who are in foster care for more than 90 days in order to prevent fraudulent activity. Occasionally youth aging out of foster care realize their identity and information has been falsely used by foster parents or family members to establish credit. Voices supports a proposal to freeze their credit, now a free benefit, for all foster children under age 18.
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- Increase accountability of Child Protective Services and Foster Care by clarifying and strengthening the authority of the Virginia Department of Social Services over local departments. Increase staff capacity at the regional level and create a children’s ombudsman as an independent investigative office. Ensure that best practices are followed statewide, including caseload limits, increasing the use of relative foster homes, and prioritizing the sufficiency, stability, and professionalism of caseworkers throughout the commonwealth.