Tag Archive: Family First

  1. Mid-Session Budget Update: Foster Care

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    In December, the Governor proposed several investments into the child welfare system. On Sunday, the House and Senate money committees submitted their changes to the proposed budget. Over the next week, each chamber will select budget conferees to work out items that were included in one chamber but not the other.

    Foster Care Workforce

    Turnover rates for entry-level family services worker specialists are 61 percent, with retention efforts being an even greater issue in small, rural agencies. The Governor proposed a 12 percent salary increase but the House and Senate reduced this to 6 percent.

    Separately, the Senate included $1 million to start a training academy for local department of social services to address retention and recruitment issues of caseworkers. The House did not include this funding.

    Kinship Care

    Currently families that care for children outside of the foster care system, in arrangements known as kinship diversion, do not receive the same financial supports, or access to mental health and social supports as foster families. The Governor proposed $16 million to provide relative support payments for children diverted from foster care to kin. The proposed amount remained the same in the House and Senate budget!

    As a significant improvement over the introduced budget, both the House and the Senate increased TANF payments with the Senate proposals being slightly stronger. The Senate proposed increasing cash assistance and eligibility levels by 20 percent. This would give kinship care families an increase in monthly child-only TANF payment amounts by approximately $75 per month for two children.

    In addition, the House funded $150,000 for the Department of Social Services to fund a study for creating policies for emergency kinship placements. They also funded HB933 to expand the kinGAP program to fictive kin.

    The Senate funded SB570 to create a state funded kinship guardianship assistance program, but it was not included in the House.

    The Senate included $400,000 to support Virginia expanding their kinship navigator programs, the House did not.

    Family First Prevention Services Act

    The federal Family First Prevention Services Act reforms Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, the federal child welfare financing streams that provide services to families at risk of entering the child welfare system. With Virginia intending to start implementation in July, the Governor proposed $66 million to create local prevention divisions. The House and Senate reduced this amount to approximately $40 million. The House and Senate also took into account federal dollars that Virginia will receive as part of the passage of the federal Family First Transition Act that was signed into law earlier this year.

    Drivers License for Youth in Foster Care

    Teens in foster care often face significant barriers to obtaining a driver’s license, such as difficulty securing the typical parental or guardian permission needed to enroll in driver’s education or secure an insurance policy, as well as an inability to pay for the various fees associated with becoming a driver. The Senate included $500,000 over two years to create a program within the Department of Social Services to help youth in care obtain drivers license, the House did not include this funding.

    Establishing an Office of Children’s Ombudsman

    The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman would be an independent agency to independently investigate any complaints relating to the Department of Social Services, local departments of social services, child-placing agencies and child-caring institutions and ensure improvement of care to children in foster care and adoptive homes. The House included $950,000 to fund this office, but it was not included in the Senate.


  2. JLARC Report on Foster Care Highlights Virginia’s Long Standing Failings in Foster Care


    Virginia’s foster care system is #1 in the nation for keeping children with their biological families, therefore reducing the need for foster care. However, Virginia continues to rank 49th in the country for youth who age out of foster care without a permanent connection—on average about 500 youth each year. The key issue is that for children who enter foster care, it becomes extremely difficult for them to exit. The new report just released from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission highlights that the 120 locally administrated departments of social services are doing a poor job of ensuring that safety and well-being of the children it serves. It also points out that the commonwealth underutilized kinship foster care as a pathway for children to achieve permanency. It noted only 6% of children in care are with relatives, while other states average around 30%.

    According to the new report “VDSS has historically narrowly interpreted its supervisory responsibilities, which are set in statute, and past VDSS leaders have equivocated about the state’s ability to assertively supervise foster care services and hold local departments of social services accountable.” The JLARC report reveals key areas for improvement in the foster care system Virginia.

    The report highlights the following statewide trends and areas of concern:

    ● Only six percent of children in foster care were placed with relatives, about one-fifth as often as the national average (32 percent.)

    ● Of children 12 and older who entered foster care between 2012 and 2016, 54 percent aged out before finding a permanent home—approximately double the 50-state average (25 percent.)

    ● Fifteen percent of foster care caseworkers in Virginia carry caseloads of more than 15 children at a time—higher than the widely accepted caseload standard of 12 to 15 children per caseworker. Though a small number, the impact is large. These caseworkers collectively manage a third of all foster care cases.

    Family First Provides Opportunities to Improve Child Welfare

    Virginia has an exciting opportunity ahead with Congress’s passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which essentially transforms the child welfare-financing stream.  The act aims to prevent children from entering foster care by allowing federal reimbursement for mental health services, substance use treatment, and in-home parenting skill training before children are removed from their home. It also seeks to improve the well-being of children already in foster care by providing incentives to states to reduce placement of children in congregate care. If implemented as intended, this would mean fewer older youth in care because wrap-around services provided to the children and their families would enable many to remain safely at home. The act creates new standards for children in residential facilities (congregate care), and makes it less likely for children to be placed there simply because there isn’t an available family-based placement for them. The report also highlighted that too many children are in residential facilities without a clinical need, and recommended that VDSS should conduct immediate reviews of cases to identify all children who do not have a clinical need to be in residential facilities and make efforts to place them in family based settings. While Family First does not address all the issues in the report, it does provide an opportunity to begin making long needed changes in the foster care system.

    2019 Legislative Opportunities for Foster Care

    While the JLARC report points to many troubling areas for Virginia’s foster care system, it’s important to focus on the opportunities ahead in the commonwealth.There are also several pieces of legislation for 2019 that Voices is working on that will put the state in a place to respond to many of the concerns and recommendations listed in the report.

    For example, we are working to bring structure and additional supports to the kinship diversion program, an effort designed to avoid foster care by facilitating placements with relatives and supports to relative foster care placements. To ensure the financial stability of relative caregivers, we are asking the state to increase the monthly payments for child-only TANF, one of the only funding streams available for low-income kinship caregivers. JLARC’s report recommended that relatives be prioritized as a placement option, which is consistent with best practices. We know that children placed with relatives, when compared to children in other placement settings, have reduced trauma, improved placement stability, and increased ability to maintain community and cultural connections.

    Another area we are working on is supporting efforts that will increase accountability of Child Protective Services and foster care by clarifying and strengthening the authority of the Virginia Department of Social Services over local departments. We hope lawmakers will increase staff capacity at the regional level and create a children’s ombudsman as an independent investigative office. We believe this will ensure that best practices are followed statewide, including caseload limits, increasing the use of relative foster homes, and prioritizing the sufficiency, stability, and professionalism of caseworkers throughout the commonwealth.

    For more information, please read our 2019 legislative agenda, sign up for our emails, and respond to requests for action during the General Assembly session.

  3. Dillon Wild Learns Public Policy Best Practices During Voices’ Internship

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    Written by Cassie Price

    With a bang of his gavel, Chairman Emmett Hanger abruptly ended the May 29 Virginia Senate Finance Committee meeting, after declaring Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment out of order. Hanger realized just in time that Norment’s attempted parliamentary maneuver would prevent a vote on Medicaid expansion from reaching the full Senate, effectively shutting down the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Virginia in 2018.

    The next day, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates voted to expand Medicaid to an additional 400,000 low-income Virginians.

    Dillon Wild witnessed first-hand the dramatic turn of events at the May 29 committee meeting. He attended the meeting on the second day of his internship with Voices for Virginia’s Children, which advocated for Medicaid expansion as a way to improve family health outcomes and economic stability.

    “It was a really exciting introduction to my internship,” said the graduate student at University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “I saw how something seemingly small could change the course of politics.”

    “It was a really exciting introduction to my internship. I saw how something seemingly small could change the course of politics.”

    Dillon learned about the Voices internship when a Batten School counselor sent around a list of internship postings. “I recognized Voices because I had used Voices’ KIDS COUNT data for a paper I wrote on children’s mental health,” he said.

    He traced his initial interest in children’s issues to discussions with his mother, an early childhood educator. She often spoke of the lack of resources available to meet the needs of low-income children, he said.

    This spring, Dillon explored children’s issues in more depth through a social policy course taught by a UVA professor who had lobbied Congress on behalf of children.

    Dillon’s summer internship focused on two projects: researching the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) and Voices’ campaign to promote trauma-informed policies and practices.

    The FFPSA reforms federal funding of the foster care system in order to prevent children from entering foster care and to improve the well-being of children already in foster care.

    “I read the legislation several times and thought about what Voices needs to do to be ready for the implementation of Family First,” Dillon said. “I met stakeholders and legislators working on this and assisted Voices’ foster care policy analyst Allison Gilbreath in creating an informational Family First webinar and the accompanying slides.

    “My trauma research involved looking at how other states expanded trauma-informed policy and practice across institutions, agencies, and organizations.”

    Now back at UVA, Dillon has been talking to his classmates about their internships.

    “I realized I was lucky to work with Voices,” he said. “Voices does a really good job of exemplifying best practices for forming public policy, as we are learning about it in my program.

    “Voices does a really good job of exemplifying best practices for forming public policy.”

    “For example, Voices’ policy director Emily Griffey made a list of stakeholders and community partners who should be involved in the trauma-informed agenda. At the first meeting with our trauma-informed partners, she asked, who is missing? Who else should we invite? This taught me the importance of including all stakeholders when crafting public policy.”

    He recalled a UVA classmate speaking about her internship with a nonprofit that had no data to back up its policy agenda. “By contrast, the KIDS COUNT data supports Voices’ public policy,” he said.

    Dillon will continue his internship with Voices on a part-time basis this semester and will work with Voices on his master’s capstone project next semester.

    “I feel very lucky to have had this experience with Voices,” Dillon said. “I learned a lot more than I thought I would. Going forward, I want to stay involved with children’s policy.”