General Assembly Responds to JLARC report with Foster Care Omnibus Bill
At the end of 2018, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee released its year long study that examined the extent to which local departments follow requirements to ensure the safety and well-being of children in foster care and effectively manage foster care cases, the appropriateness of foster care placements, efforts to place children in permanent homes, and the role of VDSS in supervising the delivery of foster care and adoption services. The report revealed Virginia’s longstanding failings in Virginia’s foster care system showing 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 affect nearly one-third of children, and VDSS has not effectively supervised the foster care system and does not have an effective means to identify and resolve poor performance.
As a direct response to the report and the recommendations within the report, Senator Bryce Reeves (R) has introduced a foster care omnibus bill (SB1339), which is a proposed law that packages several measures into one. The bill (if passed) would make numerous changes to the laws governing the provision of foster care services. Among other things, the bill would:
- Allow the Commissioner of Social Services to develop and implement a corrective action plan for or assume temporary control over the foster care services of a local board of social services upon determining that the local board (a) has failed to provide foster care services or make placement and removal decisions in accordance with applicable laws or regulations or (b) has taken any action that poses a substantial risk to the health, safety, or well-being of any child under its supervision and control.
- Our Position – We support this measure. While there are many pro/cons to a state administered, locally run foster care system, one of the over-arching challenges is the state not having any measures to step in when localities are facing significant challenges. We feel this measure is what is best for kids.
- Require the Commissioner to create within the State Department of Social Services a foster care health and safety director position.
- Our Position – We support this measure. Given the concerns pointed out in the JLARC report we support the department having a dedicated staffer to focus on this key issue.
- Direct the Commissioner to establish and maintain a confidential hotline to receive reports and complaints from foster parents and other persons regarding violations of laws or regulations applicable to foster care and any other matters related to the health, safety, or well-being of children in foster care.
- Our Position – We do not support this measure, but instead, we support the establishment of an Office of a Children’s Ombudsman. This office would provide investigation of complaints, advocacy, and information for children, parents, and citizens involved with child-serving agencies. Delegate Chris Hurst (D) has introduced a bill that would create this office with HB 2381.
- Direct the Department to develop and implement a more reliable, structured, and comprehensive case review and quality improvement process to monitor and improve foster care services provided by local boards and departments of social services.
- Our Position – We support this measure.
- Require the Department to establish and update annually a caseload standard that limits the number of foster care cases that may be assigned to each foster care caseworker.
- Our Position: We support this measure; however, this requirement must be accompanied by financial support to the Department to be able to meet the caseload standard. Caseworker turnover rate is currently 41% statewide and measures to limit the number of cases that workers have must also address salaries and retention.
The omnibus bill will have a fiscal impact once it is referred to Senate Finance. You can count on Voices to keep you updated with information on how this package progresses through the legislative session!
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