Twitter: vakids

Tag Archive: advocacy

  1. General Assembly 2022: Mental Health Wrap-Up

    Leave a Comment

    The momentum was in place for children’s mental health in Virginia. The US Surgeon General and key advocates declared a national emergency to confront a decade-long decline in children’s mental health. Despite widespread concern, Governor Northam’s original budget proposal did not fund new programs in schools for children’s mental health. To meet the moment, a bipartisan group of legislators and advocates from various communities lobbied for investments in psychological services and counseling. Additional resources of $1.4 million per year will expand the Virginia Mental Health Access Program to integrate services in health care settings. Noted below are other new investments integrating mental health in school settings, increasing reimbursement rates, and supporting the workforce.

    A First Step for School-Based Mental Health Integration 

    Over the last three years, the General Assembly has focused on improving school-based mental health by funding specialized student support positions—counselors, social workers, and psychologists. While students have benefited from better relationships with faculty, COVID presented unanticipated disruptions, rapidly increasing needs, and barriers to vital care. School divisions have responded by allocating federal recovery funds into training, coaching, and even bringing community-based mental health professionals into schools.

    However, federal support during this emergency is impermanent and mental health threats are ongoing. School divisions need resources to continue to support these efforts. Voices led advocacy for additional state general fund resources supporting school-based mental health in flexible ways to assist school divisions in identifying key partnerships and resources. The General Assembly allocated $2.5 million in FY23 to begin supporting school-based mental health services and included language asking the newly established Behavioral Health Commission to study how schools can better integrate mental health services with sustainable funding streams such as Medicaid.

    The General Assembly also approved funding to establish a regional Recovery High School based in Chesterfield where substance abuse recovery is incorporated into the school day. The proposal by Delegate Carrie Coyner was finally approved after the 2020 COVID response cut funding. Other high schools will be able to look toward this model to support health needs in the classroom.

    Senator Jennifer McClellan has been a significant leader on school based mental health and increasing resources for school-based professionals. Read more in her Op/Ed in the Fredericksburg FreeLance Star.

    Addressing Workforce Shortages

    The lynchpin to support the social and emotional well-being of students is having an appropriate workforce. We are excited about two changes that will help address pressing workforce challenges.

    The House and Senate approved HB829, proposed by Del. Tony Wilt, that will provide flexibility on a provisional basis for licensed mental health professionals without certification to work in school-settings. This flexibility will ensure that school divisions can hire more mental health staff.

    The budget adopted by the General Assembly includes funding for a new initiative to help mental health professionals seeking licensure when they must pay for their supervision time out-of-pocket. The new initiative, Boost200, will provide resources to cover out-of-pocket expenses for licensure and match them with approved supervisors. This initiative is poised to make a significant impact on removing barriers towards licensure and diversifying the mental health field. Learn more about participating to address licensure costs or to work as a supervisor.

    Improving Medicaid Reimbursement Rates

    The third area that the legislature improved on mental health services was improving Medicaid reimbursement rates for several mental health services. Federal funds from the current “public health emergency” have increased payment rates for community-based services by 12.5%. The General Assembly approved resources to continue financing those services. The General Assembly also improved rates for psychiatric residential treatment facilities. Many facilities served children from other states and lacked placements for children in Virginia, leading to greater instability for the hardest to place children, who are the focus of the Safe and Sound Task Force. The increased rates should help caregivers meet immediate needs, but challenges remain to ensure that children are not placed in inappropriate and lengthy stays in congregate settings. While increasing Medicaid rates is a positive step, adequate reimbursement is essential to looking after the mental health of economically disadvantaged children and vulnerable children in the foster care system.

  2. General Assembly 2022: Child Welfare Wrap-Up

    Leave a Comment

    The Foster Care system has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last two years foster families have experienced greater financial stress, fewer foster parents have become trained, and turn over in the workforce has increased from already high levels. In some localities children have been sleeping in local department of social services offices while awaiting placement, resulting in the Governor calling a for a special “Safe and Sound” taskforce to address the urgent needs.

    We are encouraged by the final budget including many of the initial priorities for foster care that Governor Northam introduced in December. Beyond those policies, several new programs were funded targeting older youth in care  about to transition to adulthood. Ultimately, we still have a long way to go to properly fund our child welfare system.

    Here are the highlights of the budget for child welfare advocates:

    Investing in the Infrastructure of Child Welfare

    The instability of the foster care workforce and outdated technology are major challenges in Virginia’s child welfare system. According to a 2018 JLARC report, the quit rate for an entry-level Family Services Worker Specialist is 42%, with retention being an even greater issue in small, rural agencies.

    • 10% increase in staff and operations and Local Departments of Social Services over two years
    • $22 million for the replacement of the outdated child welfare data tracking system. Updated technology, along with updated training and child welfare courses, will allow social services to serve children and families more efficiently. This can reduce the length of time between a child entering foster care and finding permanent care through reunification, kinship care, or adoption.
    • $5 Million in mandated reinvestments to provide additional resources for ongoing mandated activities such as post adoption case management services, mutual family assessments, foster care and adoption services, and substance abuse services.

    Scale Up Evidence & Community-Based Practices to Achieve Better Outcomes for Children and Families

    • Funding to provide fidelity monitoring and evaluation of evidence‐based prevention services, appropriates federal Transition Act funding and fully funds salaries for allocated program position.

    Provide Social Supports & Easier Path for Kinship Caregivers

    • Funding for SB 396 provides that the court has the authority to review a foster care plan placement determination by a local board of social services
    • Funding for HB 653 Delegate Wampler which directs the Department of Social Services to establish and implement a collaborative local board placement program to increase kinship placements and the number of locally approved foster homes.
    • Increase to TANF Cash Assistance Allocation (impacts Kinship Families receiving child-only TANF) – 5% increase.

    Help Foster Care Youth Have Normal Adolescent Experiences

    Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth in foster care aging out without a permanent connection. Investments in this area are desperately needed to support transition age youth.

    • Funding for the development of the iFoster Care Portal, a free internet resource that includes education assistance and workforce development options, as well as independent living resources geared for young adults who have experienced foster care.
    • $1 Million to develop a state-funded grant program providing a range of funding for the Great Expectations Program in the following areas: the hiring of college coaches or mentors, housing stipends, child care, and transportation needs.
    • Budget language directing the State Higher Education Council to examine the feasibility of having a point of contact at each public institution of higher education for students who have been involved in the foster care system.

    Supporting the Efforts of the Safe and Sound Taskforce

    After the budget was reconciled, Governor Youngkin introduced these budget amendments  recommended by the Safe and Sound Task Force which will continue to meet to address the current crisis in placement and the systems level changes needed to prevent children from entering foster care.

    • $592,120 for five positions to support the development of collaborative partnerships between local departments of social services (DSS) to increase capacity to approve kinship caregivers and recruit, train, and develop locally approved foster parents. This effort will support HB653, patroned by Del. Wampler, to facilitate collaboration between local DSS.
    • $1.1 million to create an enhanced treatment foster care pilot program, commonly known as the Professional Foster Parent Model. This program will serve foster homes caring for high acuity children and provide participating foster families with an annual stipend of up to $45,000 per youth.
    • $200,000 to cover the costs of coordination, recruitment, and additional training to foster care agencies.
    • $3,000,000 to support the initiatives of the Safe and Sound Task Force including community-based treatments, support for kinship, foster and adoptive families, and trauma-informed care for children in foster care who are displaced or who are at risk of being displaced.
  3. General Assembly 2022: Health and Wellness Wrap-Up

    Leave a Comment

    Understanding the social determinants of health (SDOH) that impact children’s lives informs how we advocate for policies that improve the health and well-being of all children, especially children of color and economically disadvantaged children. During the 2022 General Assembly Session, Voices joined partners, advocates, and youth in asking lawmakers to invest in equity and provide access to language services across state agencies, healthy and nutritious foods, and comprehensive health care.

    After months of negotiation, the legislature has reached an agreement on the state budget, including many of these initiatives. Policy changes in legislation and budget language have made progress towards holistically addressing the inequities and disparities faced by Virginia’s children and families.

    Creating an Equitable Health Care System

    • HB 987, sponsored by Delegate Tran, was signed into law and requires the Board of Medical Assistance Services to ensure that all medical assistance program information provided to applicants is made available in a manner that is timely and accessible to individuals with limited English proficiency through language access services. This includes oral interpretation, written translations, and auxiliary aids and services for individuals with disabilities as a reasonable step to provide meaningful access to health care coverage.
    • HB 229, sponsored by Delegate Coyner, was signed into law and requires the Department of Health to collect and analyze information, including demographic data, regarding social determinants of health and their impact on health risks and health outcomes of Virginians.
    • To address Medicaid enrollment, language is included in the budget directing the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to establish a Task Force on Eligibility Redetermination. This task force will help plan and advise the Department of Medical Assistance Services on the unwinding process to ensure Virginians do not lose healthcare coverage. The language also adds American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to be used for operational challenges linked to eligibility redetermination, such as technology needs and paying staff overtime at local DSS agencies.
    • The legislature has directed $2.5 million in FY23 to continue the contract for an integrated e-referral system for one year. It is expected that the e-referral system will continue beyond FY23 with user fees supporting its operations. The purpose of the system is to connect government agencies, health care providers, and community-based partners to enable participants in the system to refer patients to public health and social services.

    Increasing Language Access and Equity

    • While the funding amount was reduced from the original budget, $2.5 million per fiscal year remains in the current budget to be provided to state agencies for facilitating and improving language access. This funding will allow each state agency to designate a language access coordinator who will be responsible for making sure that agency materials and communications are accessible to all Virginians, especially those who have limited English proficiency.

    Increasing Food Access and Nutrition Security

    • To ensure access to healthy and nutritious foods and boost the buying power of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and food stores, $1 million per fiscal year will be directed to Virginia Fresh Match.
    • HB 582, sponsored by Delegate Roem, was signed into law and requires public institutions of higher education to ensure that young people in college have access to information on SNAP benefits, including eligibility and how to apply. The bill also requires each institution to advertise information on the SNAP benefit process on their website and in orientation materials distributed to students.
    • HB 587, sponsored by Delegate Roem, was signed into law and requires every public elementary or secondary school to process web-based or paper-based applications for participation in the School Breakfast Program or the National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, within five working days after the date of receipt of the application.

    Creating a future where Virginia’s children can thrive will require intersectional approaches, including equitable, healing-centered policies that dismantle systemic barriers so that all young people can lead long, healthy, and successful lives. While the budget takes important steps forward, we must continue uplifting youth voices to improve policies impacting their health and well-being.

  4. General Assembly 2022: Early Education Wrap-Up

    Leave a Comment

    Virginia lawmakers continued to create a path for growth and expansion in early education with the outcomes of the budget negotiations in the 2022 General Assembly Session. Building off years of historic state and national investments, the legislature approved significant resources for early childhood for FY23-24. The legislature approved several new initiatives and the bulk of the early childhood expansion proposals in Governor Northam’s outgoing budget.

    After years of significant strain on the child care industry and after a House of Delegates proposed budget made significant cuts to Northam’s proposals, early childhood advocates have something positive to celebrate in this state budget. The final compromise left most of his proposal in place. In recent comments, Governor Youngkin recognized a significant bi-partisan shift to support early education that he hoped the legislature would restore funding to early education.

    Below are the initiatives that will strengthen early education and the child care sector in the budget. In total, the budget includes an additional $76 million in state funds and an additional $7.5 million in ARPA funding for early education and child care.

    Six bipartisan legislators received Child Care Champions Awards from the Virginia Promise Partnership at an awards reception on June 1, 2022.

    Six bipartisan legislators received Child Care Champions Awards from the Virginia Promise Partnership at an awards reception on June 1, 2022.

    Creating a Stronger, More Equitably Resourced Early Education System

    A combination of policy changes in legislation and language in the budget will strengthen the alignment and oversight of early education programs.

    • The Regional Early Education System and Overpayment Fund HB 389, sponsored by Del. Bulova, was signed into law to create the structure for Ready Regions throughout Virginia and capture any overpayment to localities of subsidy funds so it does not revert to other areas.
    • Increasing the VPI per-pupil allocation to $8,359 will reflect the true cost of quality early education programs. In addition, language asks the Department of Education to conduct an annual benchmarking of VPI funding, as is done with other K-12 funding streams.
    • Language for more flexibility in the use of VPI funds will allow school divisions to serve more students with disabilities and expand to serve 3-year-olds in VPI funded programs.
    • An additional $6.7 million will expand public/private options for state-aligned preschools through the VECF mixed-delivery program. These funds will support the early childhood education of an estimated additional 500-600 students, including 200 infants and toddlers.
    • The legislature has directed $3.5 million in ARPA funds to the United Way of Southwest Virginia for a new initiative expanding child care capacity, “Ready Southwest”.

    Compensation and Retention for Early Childhood Educators

    • The approved budget will expand the early educator incentive grant program by an additional $5 million per year to recruit and retain early childhood professionals.
    • While reforms to the hiring process and background checks for provisional employment did not move forward, the Commissioner of Social Services has begun a process review and promise to address the timeliness of background checks.

    Accessibility and Affordable Care for All Children

    • Building off the legislation that passed last year, the new budget continues to expand child care assistance eligibility and reduces parent co-pays. Families with children under five, up to 85% of the state median income, and families looking for a job are eligible now for this assistance. The budget also eliminates the 72 month time limit to receive assistance, removing an arbitrary time limit for families who may have multiple children who could otherwise qualify for assistance.
    • The legislature also provided $4 million in ARPA federal funds to support 21st Century Community Learning Centers. These federal funds will strengthen school-based, out of school-time, programs that are affordable.
    • Governor Youngkin signed SB69 sponsored by Sen. Favola allowing home-based child care programs to be approved on the site of rental properties.

    Healthy Development

    • The legislature provided a $2.9 million increase each year to the base allocation for Part C Services early intervention services funded through DBHDS. This will contribute to services for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and delays.
  5. 2022 General Assembly Budget Passes with Bipartisan Progress for Kids

    Leave a Comment

    Click here to register for our upcoming Zoom webinar on June 14 as we discuss General Assembly results and what they mean for children and families in Virginia.

    After several months of negotiations and discussions among key decision makers, the General Assembly has reached an agreement on the budget. This year’s budget had notable investments in early education, foster care, and children’s mental health through bipartisan support. Since budgets are a reflection of priorities, we believe there are improvements Virginia can make to demonstrate its commitment to young people in the commonwealth.

    Notable investments in the final budget compromise include:

    • Expanding affordable, accessible early childhood education for young children around the state. The budget builds on Governor Northam’s vision to expand early childhood programming and provides funding for regional initiatives in Southwest Virginia and early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.
    • State funding for school-based mental health integration projects linking mental health services into schools. The legislature approved $2.5 million for school-based mental health projects as well as the first regional recovery high school in Virginia.
    • New initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the child welfare system include replacing the outdated child welfare data tracking system and the iFoster web-based portal for youth, expanded regional collaboration for foster placements, and additional support for foster youth seeking associate’s degrees to participate in Great Expectations.
    • $1 million each year to boost the buying power of SNAP benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and community retailers.

    We are proud to stand by the youth and young adults who advocated with us for these investments. And we will continue to speak up for policy changes designed to meet their needs.

    As one of our youth advocates said,

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.”

    – (Aaliyana, 16 years old).

    While these initiatives will continue to create new opportunities for young children to grow and thrive, the foundation of their success is economic stability. The rate of children experiencing poverty has remained consistent for decades in Virginia with persistent racial disparities in the percentage of Black and Latino children living in poverty than their White peers. A solid foundation for child well-being rests on a solid financial foundation for their families.

    As a significant commitment to families, the General Assembly approved a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC):

    • Low-income working families who have a higher-than-average tax burden will see 15% of the value of their federal refund returned as a state tax credit.
    • In addition, this summer, taxpayers will receive one-time rebates of $250 for single families and $500 for married couples.

    The refundable EITC for families demonstrates that lawmakers can take necessary action to address long-standing challenges for families that were exacerbated by the pandemic. There will be more work to do to ensure that families receive economic support and stability that will address decades-long trends in child poverty and ever-increasing material hardship experienced by families across the state.

  6. Intersectional Solutions to Increasing Food Access & Nutrition Security in Virginia

    Leave a Comment

    According to Feeding America, in Virginia, 799,620 people are facing hunger and 9.4 percent of the people in Virginia face food insecurity.  Of those, 214,270 are children. In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children reported 11.5 percent children in Virginia were food insecure. 

    • 1 in 11 people experience hunger
    • 1 in 9 children experience hunger

    Food insecurity does not necessarily hold the same definition as hunger or starvation. Hunger is a condition that may result from food insecurity. It is the prolonged involuntary lack of food that goes beyond the usual “uneasy” sensation. It results in discomfort, illness, weakness, pain, or malnutrition.

    There are different forms of food security and food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced language to name the ranges in conditions:

    • High food security is described as no reported indications of food access problems or limitations;
    • Marginal food security is described as 1 or 2 reported indications, such as anxiety over insufficient food or a shortage of food in a household but little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake;
    • Low food security is described as reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability related to one’s diet but little to no reduced food intake;
    • Very low food security is described as multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns in combination with reduced food intake.

    In Feeding America’s Map, the Meal Gap study assessed that the average cost of a meal in Virginia is $3.17 cents. The annual budget shortfall that individuals who experience food insecurity reported needing, on average, was $433,605,000 to minimally meet their needs.

    Generating food security means ensuring all people have access to enough food to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Some states, including Virginia, have increased access to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. This involved increasing SNAP thresholds to 200 percent of the poverty level, including in Virginia, to ensure more people are eligible.

    Voices for Virginia’s Children co-leads the Virginia Food Access Coalition with the American Heart Association – Virginia. To move the state forward, Virginia must:

    Invest $1.7M to Reduce Diet-Related Chronic Illnesses through the Produce RX Program.

    COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity rate. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between food insecurity and poor health outcomes, such as higher level of chronic disease, hypertension, asthma, stroke, and cancer. The Produce Rx program will provide fresh, locally grown produce alongside healthcare and nutrition counseling to empower patients to overcome barriers to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The program will allow medical professionals in Virginia to prescribe fresh fruit and vegetables to patients experiencing diet-related chronic illnesses. Over 500,000 Virginians eligible for SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid that may have specific dietary needs could be eligible for the Produce RX Program.

    Support the Produce RX Program: House Bill 1106 (Del. McQuinn), Item 341 #6h (Del. McQuinn), and Item 340 #2s (Sen. McClellan).

    Invest $2M to Support Local Farms & Access to Healthy & Nutritious Foods through Virginia Fresh Match.

    Virginia Fresh Match is a statewide initiative that started at the community-level to directly support Virginia’s agriculture and further increase access to fresh and nutritious foods for consumers who are low-income.  Every dollar of SNAP and incentives goes from the customer’s hand into a farmer’s pocket. VFM doubles the purchasing power of residents who are food insecure to increase revenue for farmers through redemption of federal nutrition benefit at markets and community-based retailers. With state support, VFM can reach more customers and grow the number of participating outlets, including supporting incentives for the Virginia Food Access Investment fund grantees.

    Support the Virginia Fresh Match Program: Item 96 #2h (Del. McQuinn), Item 96 #1s (Sen. McClellan), and Item 96 #1h, (Del. Filler-Corn).

    Invest $2M to Scale Up Virginia’s Food Supply Chain and Infrastructure through the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund.

    COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity. It has further highlighted the urgent need to invest funds in Virginia’s food supply chain. Under resourced farmers and food distributors are facing high demands from Virginia’s Food banks. The Virginia Food Access Investment Fund invests in healthy food projects and businesses by providing funding to support construction, rehabilitation, equipment, upgrades, grocery store expansion, amongst other food and nutrition providers.

    Support the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund: Item 98 #9h (Del. McQuinn) and Item 98 #2s (Sen. McClellan).

    Take Action:

    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Virginia Fresh Match Program.  
    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Produce RX Program.  
    • Click here to send an email to your public official to support the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund.  

    Advocacy Opportunities:

    • Register for weekly GA Virginia Food Access Coalition meetings.  
    • Register for the Virginia Food Access & Nutrition Advocacy Day.  
    • Register for our upcoming Legislative Advocacy & Storytelling training.

    Organizational Sign-On: Support Food Access & Nutrition

    Do you have permission to sign-on in representation of your organization?(Required)
  7. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap

    Leave a Comment

    (Pictured above: Cohort members and Voices’ staff take a “before” picture before embarking on their legislative meetings.)

    “Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let you silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old, from Hampton, VA

     

    Our 2022 Advocacy Cohort completed their Youth Advocacy Day on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Fifteen youth and young adults, ages 14 – 25, divided into four small but mighty groups to meet with fifteen policymakers (a combination of Delegates and Senators) throughout the afternoon. Advocates presented on key issues impacting themselves and their communities such as the state of youth mental health, improvements for the foster care system, needed supports and protections for LGBTIQIA+ youth, and equitable access to health coverage.

    “I talked about being trans and the discrimination that LGBTQ kids face in schools, and the fact that we endure so much… People are really hateful and spiteful and say horrible things… I’ve been asking for there to be some sort of set punishment and just understanding of why [these protections] are so important.” – Grace, 14 years old

    “Whether we’re fighting for health care or mental health services or more inclusive classrooms or more inclusive language or anything of that nature, my main thing was just making sure that we’re considering our young people every step of the way, because the choices that our policymakers and legislators make today, we’re gonna have to deal with tomorrow.” – Elijah, 14 years old

    Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer

    (Pictured above: Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer.)

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.” – Aaliyana, 16 years old

    “I talked about how bullying is equated to hate crimes at the moment and how that’s just unacceptable because they are two very different things. I asked a lot of the people we spoke with to start building [more protective] systems into schools.” – Chanel, 19 years old

    Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey

    (Pictured above: Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey.)

    “There’s just a lack of help… because of language access. I also talked about health insurance and… the human right to just being able to access [medical and mental health treatment].” – Naomi, 17 years old

    Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney

    (Pictured above: Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney.)

    Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath

    (Pictured above: Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath.)

    Originally scheduled to be a series of in-person events and legislative meetings, the cohort quickly pivoted in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and worked together to support and encourage one another throughout the virtual advocacy day. Cohort participants worked with Policy Team members to practice storytelling and connecting their experiences to policy and upcoming legislation.

    This group of changemakers left legislators and the Voices’ team completely inspired, moved, and awe-struck. We know their courageous storytelling is making incredible impact and we were honored and humbled to support them on their advocacy journeys.

  8. Welcome our 2022 Advocacy Cohort!

    Leave a Comment

    Please welcome our 2022 Advocacy Cohort!

    We are so honored to introduce the members of our 2022 Advocacy Cohort. This group of inspirational youth and young adults is diverse in age, region, advocacy experience, and lived experience. They are excited, eager, and enthusiastic about the work ahead.

    The Advocacy Cohort is in conjunction with Pretty Purposed, a mentorship organization with community-based and school-based programming in Richmond, VA, and the surrounding counties. “Pretty Purposed inspires communities to empower girls and young women.”

    Ava, 15 (she/her), with Brown Ballerinas for Change

    “Be the change you were created to be. Advocacy has no age or limits. You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

     

    Chanel, 19 (she/her)

    “The voices and experiences of the youth are essential for a better-quality future.”

    Drew, 24 (she/her)

    “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

    Elijah, 14 (he/him), with Hear Our Voices

    “When youth are able to come to the table on the issues that affect us, true and long-lasting systemic change is possible.”

    Nicole, 24 (she/her)

    “Fred Rogers says, ‘It’s easy to say not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond.’ Well here we are, and we are ready to respond and advocate! Virginia is a community worth fighting for!”

    Saniya, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.”

    Tayonna, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    “I am the future for the positive change.”

    Grace, 14 (she/her)

    “I am a trans child and I have a voice that I need to use.”

    Melissa, 23 (she/her)

    “We must come together in one another’s shared experiences and differences as we start to rebuild our communities. It’s no secret it has been a tough few years, but for many the pandemic and ongoing racial injustice has added to the hurt and hardships. People are tired. We need support. We need solutions. We need a system that prioritizes humanity. We need to create a new ‘normal’ and take action that moves us forward.”

    Kennedy, 15 (she/her), with Brown Ballerinas for Change

    Naomi, 17 (she/her)

    “I would say what most inspired me to join the cohort, was my history teacher. She made me see that my opinions matter and that I should fight for what I believe in, she teaches me every day something new and encourages me to keep fighting for myself and my community.”

     

    2022 Advocacy Cohort members not pictured:

    De’marya, 16 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed, said: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

    Aaliyana, 16 (she/her), said: “As young people, we have the responsibility of pursuing and advocating for change so future generations won’t have to experience the same struggles.”

    Jonathan, 15 (he/him), with Hampton World Changers Ambassadors

    Talia, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    Brook’lyn, 14 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed

    Oniya, 15 (she/her), with Pretty Purposed 

     

    Supporting this cohort are:

    Lotoria Fowlkes, volunteer and mentor with Pretty Purposed

    Kristin Lennox, Advocacy & Engagement Manager with Voices for Virginia’s Children

    Sign up to receive news about our advocacy cohort and their upcoming advocacy day in January.

  9. 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

    Leave a Comment

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers, to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff. The MLK Day Rally (January 17, 2021) and the advocacy day (January 18, 2021) are both in-person events.

    As the only statewide, multi-issue advocacy organization for children and youth, we have several policy areas that would center youth voice and advocacy. As youth apply, they are encouraged to consider their own lived experiences in the following areas. 

    • Foster Care & Child Welfare: You have personally experienced or witnessed a close relative live with non-relatives, relatives, such as grandparents, re-unification with parents or once been at risk of not being placed with family due to a lack of supports. You want to transform the way the world supports families and other young people so that they do not experience the same.   
    • Early Childhood Education: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions that decrease the ability for all children to experience thriving childhoods. You want to increase access to a quality early childhood education for children so that they can learn, play, and thrive. You want to transform conditions, such as childcare so caregivers can work, provide for their families, and youth are no longer having to choose between providing for their families, caring for their siblings, or attending school. 
    • Community Wealth: You have personally experienced or witnessed conditions of poverty or racism. You want to build wealth for your community and generational wealth for your family by increasing community supports, including housing, more after school or out of school programs, and funding that connects families to resources that decrease poverty. You desire a more promising future for your community, regardless of where an individual lives, works, or plays. You wish to dismantle racism and envision world communities are not plagued by racial, historical, or environmental traumas that contribute to community violence.
    • Community Health: You have personally experienced barriers and challenges to healthcare or have used public health insurance, such as Medicaid. You believe everyone deserves access to quality health outcomes and that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their cultural identity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or age. You believe health should be viewed with a broader lens and want to champion solutions that increase access to care all children to transform conditions that communities of color unjustly experience, such as cancer, obesity, or diabetes.  
    • Food & Nutrition: You have experienced or witnessed challenges accessing healthy and nutritious foods, such as living in a community with no nearby grocery stores or financial challenges to putting food on the table. You want to create a society where everyone is healthy and well and believe in diverse solutions, including eliminating barriers related to one’s immigration status, increasing access to healthy and nutritious foods, drinking water in schools, and wellness days.
    • Mental Health: You have personally needed mental health or behavioral services or resources, such as substance use services, counseling, or in-patient hospitalization. You believe mental health and behavioral health should be normalized and envision a world where supports are no longer seen as a stigma. You believe young people should lead the input to increasing mental health in schools and in their communities, whether peer led, school-based, culturally appropriate, or safe. You envision a world where youth have access to quality mental health and behavioral health services in hospitals, schools, and in their communities.
    • Economic Justice: You or your family have personally experienced not being able to meet your basic needs or struggling to. You believe that every child should have access to food, clothing, and housing. You don’t believe people should be shamed for needing help and want to create general wealth for your families and equalize unequal starting places in life due to poverty or the way in which racism impacts access to financial wealth. You seek to create a world where communities can survive, seek stability, and thrive.
    • Racial Truth and Reconciliation: You have personally experienced or witnessed racial and historical traumas, such as slavery or the indigenous trail of tears and the long-term impacts of that which follow youth and children in their communities, schools, and institutions. You have additionally experienced or witnessed racism and the conditions it creates and want to dismantle racism in every society or system, including the foster care system, the school-to-prison pipeline, racism as a public health crisis, and police brutality. You believe that communities should be viewed as agents in the creation of their change and want to create systems that foster healing and resilience instead of trauma. You envision a world where every child has access to a just future, regardless of their race or ethnic identity.

    Youth (up to 25 years of age) must complete an application to be considered for this opportunity. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Deadline for submission is close of business Wednesday, November 24. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQIA+ are strongly encouraged to apply. Events on January 17 and 18 are in-person, and masks will be mandated regardless of vaccination status.

    Please contact Kristin Lennox at kristin@vakids.org for more information.

     

    2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is establishing a small cohort of youth advocates, comprised of young change makers to join us for Advocacy Days at the General Assembly in January 2022. This cohort will learn how to share their stories and experiences with others and provide feedback on policies that affect them. The purpose of the cohort is to create a space for youth to have a voice at the table and establish meaningful change and influence in the systems that have impacted their lives. Included in this opportunity are at least three mandatory training opportunities to develop skills in storytelling and advocacy, $500 compensation (contingent upon participation in all activities), and an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia (provided by Voices for non-Richmond area residents). The advocacy day event will include a day of virtual legislative visits, a press briefing, and a round table discussion with key administrative staff.
    https://www.mypronouns.org/what-and-why
    Email(Required)
    Home Address(Required)
    MM slash DD slash YYYY
    Please note that the maximum age of advocates for this cohort is 25.
    The person listed will be contacted to complete a consent form for your participation
    Race/Ethnicity(Required)
    Which of the following is your area of interest/lived experience?(Required)
    Please see our blog post on the Youth Advocacy 2022 Cohort for more examples of each policy area.
    Are you affiliated with any organizations that you would also be representing as an advocate?
    Some of our trainings will be virtual through Zoom. Are you familiar with Zoom and have access to a device and reliable internet to engage in trainings through Zoom?(Required)
    Can you commit to the following dates and times for trainings? Monday, December 6, 2021, 5pm – 6:30pm (virtual); Monday, January 10, 2022, 5pm – 6:30pm (virtual); Monday, January 17, 2022 (after MLK Day Rally) in-person, times TBD; events on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, in-person, day-long event(Required)
    Events are subject to change as needed. Events on January 18th would require an overnight stay in Richmond, Virginia, with hotel accommodations covered by us for non-Richmond-area residents.
    Max. file size: 300 MB.
  10. Share Your Story: Back to School

    Leave a Comment

    As children across Virginia head back to school, many families are feeling uncertain. Lawmakers have taken steps to expand access to child care, to increase food benefits and offer free school meals and to provide child tax credits. These supports are necessary and appreciated. At the same time, there are challenges that will make this year’s back to school transition difficult such as lack of paid leave, long waiting lists to enroll in child care programs and costly back to school purchases.

    We believe that lawmakers will help families and we know they have the ability to provide help. Right now Congress is considering the Build Back Better recovery plan that includes 12 weeks of paid family leave, additional funding for child care, extensions of the monthly child allowance and more. This is the opportunity to pass a comprehensive package to provide families and caregivers with the support you need. With so many things happening in the world at once, we need to bring the focus back to children and families. We need you to share your story.

    Complete this form to share your story.

    You have a couple of options…

    1. type up your story and submit or

    2. submit your name and we’ll follow up to interview you and record a story.

    We will connect with you to approve your story before it shared and let you know more about where and how it can be shared. We would like to collect as many stories as possible in the first two weeks of children going back to school. We appreciate your patience in reviewing your story and getting back to you.

    We can’t wait to hear from you.