The Foster Care Caucus, co-chaired by Senator Monty Mason and Delegate Emily Brewer, held its first meeting of the legislative session on January 31. The caucus meeting is an opportunity for members to share their legislative priorities and to receive updates from the Virginia Department of Social Services. Plus, advocates are able to participate by sharing their own experiences and priorities with policymakers.
The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) Commissioner Dr. Danny Avula shared that local departments are dealing with 30% or more vacancy rates, creating numerous challenges for the agency to do their work.
The agency urged the caucus to take two immediate actions:
Caucus co-chair Senator Mason filed a budget amendment for $240,000 to expand the child welfare stipend program that, if included in the final budget, would widen the pipeline for new child welfare workers.
One of the most poignant moments of the caucus meeting was hearing from youth advocates Abigail Ritchie and Jah’Miya Vaughn who spoke on the importance of youth in care to be supported with obtaining drivers licenses and financial assistance to pay for car insurance. Delegate Tata has filed a budget amendment that would direct VDSS to create a driver’s license program for youth in care.
The meeting wrapped with an opportunity to look at issues that members can work on in the off- season. Anna Daniszewski, Legal Fellow at Virginia Poverty Law Center, provided an overview on the issue of inadequate legal representation for parents with children entering foster care. Anna shared that a 2022 parent representation workgroup in Virginia reported that families do not get justice, and judges are running out of attorneys to appoint due to the pay rate of $120 per case ($158 for termination of parental rights hearings). Other states have found that wraparound models for legal services for parents shortens children’s time in foster care by an average of four months per child—saving millions of dollars annually. The caucus agreed to work on this issue and come up with recommendations for the 2024 legislative session.
In addition to the Foster Care Caucus Meeting this week, our partners at Children’s Home Society hosted their annual foster care advocacy day on February 1. This was held virtually with professionals working in foster care, foster parents and private providers, among other advocates. Legislators heard stories from people with lived experience in the foster care system and what actions we need them to take to improve outcomes and experience for families.
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