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  1. 2021 General Assembly Session: Foster Care Priorities

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    Foster care is a state-run program that provides temporary care for children who cannot live with their parents or other relatives. 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.

    Pressing Needs in Virginia

    In the 2020 legislative session, a number of key advancements were made for children and families in foster care, however these investments were almost all put on hold due to the pandemic. The pandemic created more challenges in day-to-day activities for foster and kinship caregivers, as well as child welfare professionals. Many children entering the foster care system have experienced adversity and trauma, leaving them more vulnerable to the changes that come with school closings, lack of daily contact with friends and mentors, and other forms of social distancing. Virginia’s local department of social services has seen a decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect but expects a sharp increase as schools reopen. The child welfare system often feels immediate and long-term impacts from an economic downturn with more demands for services and increased parental stress.

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

    • Reallot funding towards implementing 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 or care.
    • Prioritize access to child care assistance for children at-risk of entering foster care. Currently families involved in CPS or CPS on-going cases are considered a “priority” eligibility category. They are not guaranteed care but are given a priority. In addition, families that fall outside of those formal designations and are still CPS-involved, such as kinship arrangements, may be eligible to apply but are not guaranteed assistance Adding language in the code that gives clear priority access to child care assistance funds for children 0-13 in any cases where families are receiving kinship caregiver financial assistance, prevention services are being provided, or the family is involved in CPS or CPS-ongoing services.

    Provide Social Supports to Kinship Caregivers

    • Bring social supports to the kinship diversion program, an effort designed to avoid foster care by facilitating placements with relatives by creating a statewide kinship navigator program. Provide funding to VDSS to develop a statewide Kinship Navigator program in Virginia, which will provide information, resource, and referral services to children and kin caregivers. Kinship navigator programs offer help to kinship providers and the public in areas such as financial assistance, legal referrals, education and support groups, basic needs, child care and respite, and outreach and public education. Many kinship navigator programs also assist caregivers in obtaining copies of birth certificates, social security cards, immunization records, and any documents needed for the school registration of a child.
    • Eliminate barriers to kinship caregivers becoming licensed foster parents by amending the barrier crime statue. One commonly articulated reason about why the percentage of kinship foster care has remained so low in Virginia compared to the rest of the nation, is that Virginia’s list of barrier crimes is extensive. A barrier crime is a crime set forth in statute that explicitly disqualifies a person from foster care or kinship foster care. Federal law sets the baseline for barrier crimes standards that states must follow in setting up their foster care program in order to be eligible for Title IV-E funds. They also have a limited list of barrier crimes that states must comply with, as well as a short list of crimes for which an exception may be granted after five years.

    Help Foster Care Youth have Normal Adolescent Experiences

    • Request the Commission on Youth to study workforce outcomes for youth in care. Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth in foster care aging out without a permanent connection. We lack data on the educational and employment outcomes for this population. The study would provide the state with recommendations moving forward.

    Sign up to receive foster care news and legislation emails from Voices here.

  2. 2021 General Assembly Session: Early Care and Education Priorities

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    There is no question that 2020 has dramatically changed the early learning sector in Virginia. As of late November, one-third of the licensed child care capacity in the state were still closedMost of our public preschool programs are offering virtual instruction for students. The impact of this year will have long-term implications for children as well as the child care sector.  

    We must recognize that our child care sector has only achieved stability at this level through additional federal resources. Nearly $170 million in response funds have been directed to child care and public preschool by the legislature and the Northam administration. This level of investment has been essential to keeping many providers open and allowing educators to offer care and instruction for the last nine months.

    We know that, due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on the state, additional state funds may be hard to come by this year. Our talking points for the 2021 legislative session will focus on two themes: 

    1. Improving compensation for early educators who have worked on the front lines.
    2. Building social-emotional supports into every aspect of our early learning systems.

    Improving Compensation for Early Educator Frontline Heroes

    recent UVA study of the racial composition and compensation of the early childhood workforce found that two out of five early educators in child care centers reported household incomes under $25,000. 35 percent of early educators reported decreased earnings back in May due to COVID-19 closuresBefore the pandemic, the median wage in child care was $10-14 an hour across the country. Educators in the private child care sector tend to usually be women of color—lead teachers in private programs were three times more likely to be Black than teachers in public preschool programs.

    In order for young children to continue to have loving and prepared caregivers and for parents to find child care, we must ensure there is a workforce to support children and support the sector. For the many child care programs that have remained open, early educators have put themselves at-risk of exposure to love and nurture our babies. These heroes deserve to be compensated in line with their importance in our society and in children’s lives.

    Incentive Payments: The Northam Administration has offered $1,500 incentive payments to some educators in PDG B-5 pilot communities. In FY20, about $3 mil distributed to 2,000 teachers as $1,500 recognition payments and another $3 mil is set to be distributed this year. UVA study comparing those who received an incentive and those who did not showed that the recognition payment reduced teacher turnover in child care centersWe will support additional incentive payments for educators and efforts that seek to increase minimum wages in child care settings by offering additional financial support.

    Building in Social-Emotional Supports into Every Aspect

    We don’t yet know the full impact that the pandemic will have on young children, but we do know that the stressors of the pandemic can produce a long-term impact on quickly growing and developing young brains. For children of color, the economic and emotional impact of the pandemic is layered on top of racial and historical trauma for their families and their communities.  

    Recent Census Household Pulse data shows that more than one in five parents in Virginia reported feeling hopeless or depressed. We know that when parents struggle with their mental health their children are also likely to struggle. We have heard directly from early educators who feel the toll of being on the front lines and who worry about their own health and serving children who are facing months of trauma and disruption. We must do better to support children and their caregivers in response to the pandemic.

    VDOE and state partners conducted a study on implementing mental health consultation models in child care this fall and found a few opportunities to start building up our systems. We believe that agency administrators and program leaders from Education, Social Services, Mental Health and Health agencies should review their professional development and program support plans to support services for social-emotional health into every program plan. This would include efforts such as additional social-emotional screening tools for children, implicit bias and equity training for educators, service linkages and workforce development efforts. To ensure a statewide system of support for children and caregivers there must be a multi-pronged and multi-faceted response with support from the legislature and administration creating a foundation of solid social-emotional wellness.

    Long Term Big, Bold Vision for ECE

    As we look to the long-term of the future of early education, we know we have to address a long standing problem— parents can’t afford to pay any more for child care and early educators can’t afford to earn any less. As we seek long-term solutions to rebuild this sector, we will keep these dual goals in mind to identify and support public investments and tools that can provide better pay for teachers and supports for the overall system to keep costs down for parents. We cannot go back to a system that requires parents to pay more than college tuition for their child care. And we cannot go back to a system that is based on paying low wages to teachers and caregivers. The recognition that child care is essential for our workforce should change the positioning and prominence of child care on any state and federal policy agenda in the future. It is critical to have your advocacy to continue to support it.

    Sign up to receive early education news via email including relevant legislation and opportunities to weigh in.

  3. Kinship Care Listening Tour

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    Virginia is ranked 49th in the country for the number of children aging out of foster care without a permanent connection. Children who are unable to live with their family of origin are more likely to achieve permanency when they are placed with a relative. However, in Virginia only 6 percent of are placed with a relative when entering foster care. Relatives often want to take in children but are unable to do so because of lack of resources and support. In 2018, Virginia passed the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Bill and while this is a terrific first step towards promoting kinship care we know there is much work to do.

    We are going on a listening tour to hear from professionals in the field as well as caregivers raising relatives to hear about the challenges and opportunities with kinship care. Voices will compile the results of this tour in a policy brief that will be shared with lawmakers. Please register for one of the following events across the commonwealth to let your voice be heard:

    Chesapeake, VA | August 1st | 6pm – 8pm (dinner will be served)

    Abingdon, VA | August 9th | 11am- 1pm (lunch will be served)

    Fairfax, VA | August 13th | 11am-1pm or 6pm – 8pm (lunch or dinner will be served)

    Richmond, VA | August 29th | 11am – 1pm or 6pm – 8pm (lunch or dinner will be served)

    If you cannot attend any of these sessions but want to share your comments, please email Allison Gilbreath at allison@vakids.org