Tag Archive: child welfare

  1. A Comparative Analysis of House and Senate Proposed Budgets for Child Welfare: A Closer Look at Key Allocations

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    Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, USA.

    As Virginia grapples with the multifaceted challenges of child welfare, members of the money committees play a crucial role in shaping policies and providing funding to support vulnerable children and families. In this blog post, we will dissect the proposed budgets from both the House and Senate, focusing on key allocations aimed at improving foster care, adoption, and child welfare services. 

    Included in House and Senate Proposed Budget: 

    1. Foster Care & Adoption COLA – $7 million (7%): The House’s commitment to a 7% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for foster care and adoption services underscores a dedication to enhancing the well-being of children in the system.
    2. Nongeneral Funds for Local Staff and Operations – $85.2 million NGF: Allocating substantial non-general funds to local staff and operations ensures that resources are available at the grassroots level, where they are needed the most.
    3.  Child Welfare Forecast – $3.2 million: By dedicating funds to forecasting child welfare needs, the House aims to create a more proactive and responsive system, better equipped to address emerging challenges.
    4.  Kinship as Prevention Program Bill – $16 million: Recognizing the importance of kinship care in preventing children from entering the foster care system, the House allocates a significant budget to support this preventive measure.
    5.  Training Academy – $8.2 million (House) $3 Million (Senate): Investing in the training and development of social services employees demonstrates a commitment to enhancing the skills and knowledge of those on the front lines of child welfare.
    6. Transfer Funding for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care – $1.3 million: Shifting funds from the Department of Housing & Community Development to the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) reflects a strategic move to streamline support for youth transitioning out of foster care.
    7. Drivers License for Foster Youth – $620,000 (House) $500,000 (Senate): The allocation for a driver’s license program for foster youth acknowledges the importance of empowering them with essential life skills and independence.
    8. Support Foster Youth in Great Expectations Program – $1.3 million (House) $1 million (Senate): This funding emphasizes the commitment to providing support for foster youth pursuing higher education through the Great Expectations Program. 

     

    House Proposal Only 

    1. Kin First Consultants – $504,154: Supporting kinship caregivers through consultants emphasizes a holistic approach to child welfare, recognizing the pivotal role played by extended family members. 
    2. OES Staff Support for Child Dependency Cases (HB 893) – $989,000: Supporting staff involved in Child Dependency Cases ensures a robust and efficient system for addressing complex legal and social challenges. 3.
    3. Child Dependency Cases: Court-Appointed Attorneys – $7,310,000: Adequate funding for court-appointed attorneys demonstrates a commitment to fair representation and due process in child dependency cases. 

     TAKE ACTION

    Over the next two weeks, negotiators will work out key differences in the two budgets. Send an email to legislators today telling them to fully support investments in child welfare.  As the legislative process unfolds, Voices will closely monitor how these budgetary decisions translate into impactful changes on the ground. 

  2. Motherhood: A Journey in Advocacy

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    Becoming a mother almost six years ago was a transformative experience that reshaped my worldview in profound ways. As I navigate the complexities of raising my children, I’ve discovered invaluable lessons about advocacy that have enriched my work in ways I never anticipated. 

    This Monday, as I accompanied my son to the Fund Our Schools Advocacy Day, I was struck by the parallels between motherhood and advocacy. President’s Day meant a school holiday, leaving me without child care. So, with my son by my side, I ventured into the halls of the General Assembly building, watching him confidently interact with legislators.  

    His ease in those corridors reflected my own journey, from a nervous intern to an advocate unafraid to speak truth to power. During this legislative session, I provided testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, highlighting that I’ve incurred child care expenses exceeding $87,000 over the past six years. Delegate Sewell acknowledged this during a chance encounter this morning when she paused, shook my son’s hand, and mentioned, “Your mommy talks about you all the time here.” 

     

    Over the years, I’ve woven advocacy into the fabric of motherhood, creating spaces where my children can witness democracy in action. From the Virginia General Assembly to the White House, they’ve accompanied me, absorbing the importance of civic engagement. These experiences have underscored a fundamental truth: motherhood and advocacy are deeply intertwined, each enriching the other in unexpected ways. 

    In my advocacy journey, I’ve spearheaded initiatives like Voices’ foster care policy network and the bipartisan foster care caucus with the Virginia General Assembly. These efforts have led to tangible change, including the creation of  Fostering Futures, Virginia’s extended foster care program. However, progress often unfolds slowly, mirroring the gradual development we witness in our children. It takes time, patience, and unwavering dedication to see meaningful results.  

    In my eighth legislative session with Voices, there is a glimmer of hope as we approach the potential passage of the Kinship Prevention Program. This initiative aims to allocate funding specifically for kinship caregivers, offering them essential wrap-around supports to better navigate their crucial role. This advocacy journey began with kinship listening sessions, followed by the successful passage of the kinship guardianship assistance fund, and later, the introduction of kinship maintenance payments. While the potential passage of this bill may not yield a perfect solution, it signifies a step forward—tangible progress in our ongoing efforts. 

    My children, like many others, have faced developmental delays, particularly in speech development. We’ve spent years in speech therapy, investing time and energy without experiencing immediate results. Yet, through perseverance and the support of programs like the Virginia Preschool Initiative, we’ve witnessed remarkable growth. It’s a reminder that change often comes gradually, but with steadfast determination, we can achieve remarkable outcomes. 

    As I reflect on my journey as both a mother and an advocate, I’m reminded of the profound impact of early intervention and investment. The disparities I see in my son’s kindergarten class underscore the urgent need for equitable access to resources and support. Motherhood has amplified to me that every child deserves a fair chance to thrive, and advocacy is the vehicle through which we can make that a reality. 

    Advocacy, much like motherhood, requires adaptability and a deep understanding of individual needs. Just as my children are unique, so too are legislators, each with their own backgrounds and motivations. To effect change, we must meet them where they are, speaking to what resonates on a personal level. Sometimes, the most impactful messages come from unexpected sources, highlighting the importance of collaboration and coalition-building in advocacy efforts. 

    In the intersection of motherhood and advocacy, I find a sense of purpose and resilience. It’s a reminder that our voices have power, and our actions can shape the future for generations to come. As I continue to advocate for the rights and well-being of all children, I do so with the knowledge that every small step forward brings us closer to a brighter, more equitable future. 

    My hope is that my advocacy today will spare my children the need to advocate for the same issues in their adulthood. In the end, I am both an advocate and a mother, and it’s in embracing these dual roles that I find my truest strength. Together, they form the foundation of my identity—a testament to the transformative power of love, determination, and unwavering commitment to a better world for our children.  

    Start your advocacy journey, take action on one or all of our active action alerts: https://vakids.org/take-action

  3. Recap: Foster Care Caucus Meeting & Advocacy Day

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    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.

    Highlights from the Caucus meeting:

    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:

    1. Support pay increases for child welfare workers through the budget process.
    2. Increase funding for the child welfare stipend program.

    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.

    Watch Abigail Ritchie’s testimony here and Jah’Miya Vaughn’s here.

    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.

    Foster Care Advocacy Day

    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.

  4. 9-8-8 is Just One Step Towards a Comprehensive Crisis Services System

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    This blog is the second post in a two-part series that takes a deeper look into Virginia’s efforts to integrate the 9-8-8 hotline with the behavioral health crisis services continuum. Read the first blog post in the series here.

    For years, communities have advocated for diverting mental and behavioral health calls away from law enforcement and for states to adopt a comprehensive crisis response system. Now, that dream is beginning to come to fruition. On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitioned to the three-digit number 9-8-8. While this transition was initiated by legislation at the federal level, states are responsible for the rollout and linkages to their crisis response systems when the caller’s needs cannot be resolved over the phone. Virginia has been working on a rollout behind the scenes to link the lifeline to crisis response services that are currently being designed and implemented by state agencies and stakeholders.

    The commonwealth’s plan for minimizing emergency room visits for mental health crises and providing an alternative to calling 9-1-1 is to link the crisis call centers with regionally focused resources by integrating mobile crisis response alongside the Marcus Alert protocols. However, at this moment, this is simply the goal and not the reality. The development and implementation of Virginia’s behavioral health crisis system has been a piecemeal approach, and is not yet fully prepared to deliver comprehensive, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive services to meet individuals’ mental health needs—specifically the needs of young people

    The Surgeon General sounded the alarm in December 2021 by issuing an advisory on the youth mental health crisis. Despite widespread awareness, young people’s mental and behavioral health needs are often an afterthought or part of “phase two” when developing programs and services. Current resources dedicated to young people’s behavioral health make up less than 10% of Virginia’s overall behavioral health agency budget. The lack of sufficient funding and resources further the disparities that historically marginalized communities face in accessing support and services.

    Due to the inconsistent mental health crisis services across regions, law enforcement is often the first point of “care” for mental health emergencies, especially for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ youth. While most calls to 9-8-8 can be resolved during the call, some crises will require an in-person response based on a four-level call matrix.

    four level call matrix

    This new entry point for mental health support is supposed to be an alternative to law enforcement response, but a new law allows 89 of Virginia’s 133 localities with 40,000 or less residents to opt out of two protocols under the Marcus Alert System. This means that for those living in one of the 89 localities that are not required to implement all Marcus Alert protocols, an attempt to get in-person crisis support may still result in law enforcement, with or without Crisis Intervention Training, responding to your call. The criminalization of youth crises often results in further traumatization. This experience can intensify their crisis, compromise their treatment, and make them and their families less willing to call for help if another crisis occurs. Far too often children and families are met with a response that is not suited to meet their immediate or long-term needs.

    At a time when young people need support the most—while their worlds have been turned upside down by COVID-19—we must ensure there are providers and services in place to provide access to timely, culturally responsive services, and address social determinants of health to support children and families’ overall wellbeing. This requires investments from lawmakers and interagency collaboration.

    For 9-8-8 to be truly transformative, investments are needed now.

    While all these recommendations are not immediate and some are considerations for future policy, Voices for Virginia’s Children suggests the following key recommendations:

    • Mobile Crisis services need to be fully funded across all regions, with an emphasis on providing services in underserved and rural communities. Voices also suggests separate mobile crisis protocols designed specifically for youth, as the intervention points at which young people receive support may include schools, parental consent, developmental appropriateness, or specifically trained professionals;
    • Mobile Crisis and Community Care teams should include a peer specialist, interpreter, community advocate, and child-serving mental health professional;
    • More small-scale children’s Crisis Stabilization Units should be placed in communities across the state;
    • Establish an infrastructure for language access and a culturally diverse and appropriate workforce;
    • Mandatory trainings should include equity-centered concepts, including implicit bias training, trauma-informed care, child and adolescent development, and training specific to special populations (i.e., LGBTQIA+ youth and youth with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities);
    • Stakeholders involved in implementation should include those most impacted, such as youth with lived experience and communities of color;
    • Ensure that crisis response protocols and services are equipped to support systems-involved youth and their family members. Protocols should be designed to avoid future involvement in the child welfare system or juvenile justice system.

    Voices will continue to advocate for increased access and improved coordination of quality mental health services for all children in Virginia, regardless of where they live or at what point they seek mental health services. The future wellbeing of our state depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.

    To learn more about Virginia’s plan for crisis system transformation, visit these resources: Virginia’s Crisis System Transformation and Marcus Alert and STEP-VA.

  5. Youth Mental Health Crisis

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    Written by Voices’ intern Abby Aquije

    Increasing mental health resources and access to behavioral health services is a necessary step to mend our youth mental health crisis. If we are truly committed to ending this crisis, we must also consider what factors lead to the situation getting this bad. What is different about our youth today? What has gotten us to this crisis point?

    Youth are feeling alone and disconnected

    Our youth are facing an unprecedented number of stressors that can explain rising rates of depression and anxiety among children and adolescents. Gen Z youth are experiencing stress from sources ranging from school demands to family issues, and even “eco anxiety.” Though these statistics tell us that most youth are struggling with similar hardships, those that work closest to them assure us that this is not how they see it. Recent conversations with Virginia youth directors have made it clear that a key element in this crisis is that youth are feeling alone and disconnected from those around them.

    Most of us have been there, feeling as if we are the only ones stressing about school, social image, or family issues, when in reality the majority of us go through similar issues. As a society, we are becoming more open about mental health issues, yet, there is more to be done. If youth do not feel comfortable talking about their struggles, they will continue to feel alone. Think of a student falling behind in a class. On top of feeling the academic stress, they may also feel shame, which could lead to feelings of isolation and then more serious mental health issues. Even in the Netherlands – whose COVID-19 response included short lockdowns, equitable funding, and high rates of broadband access – student test results revealed a learning loss. How can a student blame themselves for something that is happening globally, even in “best case” scenarios? Why is it that they feel shame rather than solidarity?

    The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already concerning rates of loneliness

    Loneliness is being described as an epidemic, with over 60% of young adults feeling it. They are unable to connect with those around them and have to tackle their challenges alone. This all makes the perfect recipe for deteriorating physical and mental health issues that must be addressed.

    High rates of youth loneliness can easily be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic: the nationwide lockdowns, social distancing, and virtual schooling all caused disconnection. Efforts to boost human connection were admirable, but the damage is done. No amount of virtual connection can make up for the formative middle school years, high school celebrations, and other important in-person experiences youth missed. While it is easy to point fingers at the pandemic, we cannot forget that these rates were rising prior to it. Social media and changing family structures also play a role in limiting the connections youth build with one another.

    Program Response: Employ connectedness strategies

    As we move forward, we have to be more intentional about forming and maintaining connections. Those that work with youth should prioritize creating spaces for youth to meet and truly connect with one another. Youth thrive when they feel they belong, they need to know that people hear and care about them.

    Most parents and caregivers know the importance of forming secure attachment in early childhood and actively work toward developing it. Attachment building paves the way for healthy and independent children, however, as they grow up there is less of an emphasis on developing and maintaining these sorts of connections. It is important for kids to learn independence, but no one can survive on their own, not physically or mentally. It is no surprise that youth connectedness is a protective factor for negative mental health outcomes and that the CDC supports the implementation of connectedness strategies, policies, and activities. As we move forward, we must value building youth connections just as much as we do infant attachment building.

    Policymakers should push for Peer Support Services before crises arise

    Peer support is an evidence-based practice used to help individuals cope with mental health challenges and improve quality of life. In addition to being cost-saving, it has been shown to be more effective than usual care for treating depression, and is especially engaging for “difficult to reach” individuals. Virginia already has qualified peer support providers that use their lived experience with mental health and substance use disorders to help others with their recovery. These providers are important for recovery once mental health challenges arise; however, their experience can also be beneficial for preventative measures before the issues arise. Programs like Hoos Connected, at the University of Virginia, use a form of peer support by having upperclassmen facilitators bring students together to develop meaningful connections with one another.  Students that participate in these programs report feeling significantly less depressed and as a former facilitator, I can attest to the difference the 9-week program makes. Despite its limitations – mainly the challenge of enrolling youth into a “feelings” class – there is a lot of promise to programs like these.

    Combating the loneliness epidemic will take time as it requires youth buy-in and societal shifting. Working alongside young people as we continue to research and develop solutions will be essential as we move forward in an effort to improve the overall mental health of our youth.

  6. 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book Release

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    The 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book was recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an annually published resource that tracks child well-being nationally as well as state by state and ranks the states accordingly. The report is based on the latest available data for 16 key indicators. Policymakers, researchers, and advocates can continue to use this information to help shape their work and build a stronger future for children, families, and communities.

    View the full 2022 Data Book.

    The 2022 report includes the most recent data from 2020. Due to several challenges in data collection during the pandemic, several years of data needed to be aggregated for stable results. A letter from the Annie E. Casey Foundation President, Lisa Hamilton, highlights the most recent data we have that reflect how parents and families are faring during the pandemic. This letter highlights the 1.5 million children who are struggling to make it through the day.

    Overall, Virginia is ranked 13th in the nation. The data in this year’s report include both pre-pandemic and more recent figures. Here’s where Virginia lands in each domain:

    • Economic well-being: Virginia saw improvements in all four indicators compared to 2008-2012. There are 24,000 fewer children living in poverty and the percentage of children in families with no full-time employment decreased by 8% from 2016-2022. Additionally, the percent of teenagers who are not in school and are unemployed decreased by 29%. However, there are still 242,000 children living below a family income of $26,246 for a family of four.
    • Education: Virginia is in the top 10 at 6th place. The percentage of high school students not graduating on time decreased from 18% to 13% (2010-2011 vs. 2018-2019).
    • Health: Virginia ranks 24th. The percent of children without health insurance, improved from 7% to 5% from 2008-12 to 2016-20. But that is the only indicator to improve during the trend year. Children born with low birth weight, child and teen deaths, as well as child obesity increased.
    • Family and community factors: Virginia ranks 17th place. Teen birth rates dropped from 27 per 1,000 females to 13 per 1,000 females in 2010 to 13% in 2020, and the percent of children living in households where the head of household lacks a high school degree went from 10% to 9%. However, children in single parent households (31%) and children living in high poverty areas (5%) from trend years 2008-2012 to 2016-2020 remain the same.

    The Virginia KIDS COUNT data center includes these indicators and hundreds more at the state and even local level over time. For example, interested in learning more about the percent of children in poverty across Virginia? The Virginia KIDS COUNT data center has data available by locality and race. Learn more.

    Sign up to receive data news and updates from us.

  7. General Assembly 2022: Mental Health Wrap-Up

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    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.

  8. General Assembly 2022: Child Welfare Wrap-Up

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    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.
  9. General Assembly 2022: Health and Wellness Wrap-Up

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    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.

  10. General Assembly 2022: Early Education Wrap-Up

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    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.