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  1. 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    The instability of the foster care workforce and outdated technology are major challenges in Virginia’s child welfare system.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    • $22 million for the replacement of the outdated child welfare data tracking system.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.
  2. Bill Explainer: SB 56 – Foster Care Prevention Program (Senator Favola)

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    Senator Favola, Chair of the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, has introduced SB 56 to create a foster care prevention program in Virginia. The purpose of the program is to facilitate placements with relatives and ensure that these relatives are provided with the resources necessary to care for the children. Virginia has significantly increased kinship placements in the past few years, going from 5 percent of overall placements in 2016 to 18 percent in 2021 with the national average being around 30 percent. These increased placements have occurred because of several advancements such as, the creation of the kinship guardianship assistance program, creation of a kinship only TANF financial assistance fund, and kin first guidance from the Virginia Department of Social Services. The bill passed unanimously out of committee and is now waiting to be picked up in Senate Finance where the financial impact of the bill will be reviewed.

    The bill would do the following:

    • A child is considered eligible for the foster care prevention program if:
      • The child is in the custody of a relative by a court order; The child’s parent or guardian voluntarily placed the child with such relative; The child demonstrates a strong attachment to the relative, and the relative has a strong commitment to caring for the child; and Had the relative not agreed to take custody of the child, the local department likely would have filed a petition with the court to remove the child from the home of his parent or guardian due to an imminent threat of child abuse or neglect
    • If a child is deemed eligible, the local department and the relative who has custody of an eligible child will enter into a written agreement with the Department. The agreement will include provisions regarding the amount of each Foster Care Prevention program payment. In addition, the local department will determine if the kin, in addition to financial assistance, needs ongoing case management services.
    • Foster Care Prevention program payments will be no more than the foster care maintenance payments that the relative would receive if the relative was the child’s foster parent, reduced by any monthly payments received through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

    *For purposes of this section, “relative” means an adult who is either related to the child by blood, marriage, adoption or fictive kin of the child.*

    How to Show Your Support

    While we await the estimated cost of the program to be generated, we want to make sure legislators know individuals are in support of the proposed program.

    Complete this action alert and add your custom message to urge support for SB 56. 

  3. Studying Workforce Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care

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    When looking at the numerous challenges that face youth aging out of foster care, workforce outcomes are a key issue, but one in which we have a limited understanding. We know that 20% of youth in foster care are aging out and only 50% of those youth will have steady employment by 24. With estimates of 650 youth aging out of care in Virginia each year (this number only continues to rise), this would mean roughly 325 youth per year being unemployed or underemployed. Many barriers contribute to the employment struggles of these youth including homelessness and mental health concerns which can create exponential challenges to obtaining or maintaining employment.

    What is Being Requested?

    To best identify possible solutions that will help support our youth, a study has been requested from the Commission on Youth. The request is for the Commission to dive deep into what barriers exist in preventing youth aging out of care from obtaining and maintaining steady employment. After understanding these barriers, the study would hopefully provide recommendations for policy changes or programs that would offer prevention for youth still in foster care and intervention for those who have already aged out.

    Who is Involved?

    Currently, Children’s Home Society has taken the lead on working with the Commission on Youth to propose this study along with contacting legislators from both the House and the Senate for their support. After the study is approved, the Commission on Youth will identify a variety of stakeholders to be involved. This will likely include the Department of Social Services, Voices for Virginia’s Children, and other agencies who work in foster care, adoption, and independent living.

    What is the Timeline?

    The next Commission on Youth meeting has not yet been set, so the date for when they would vote on whether to take on this study is likely to occur after session is over. Based on prior study timelines, if approved, the study would likely be completed by November 2021. This would then allow advocates and legislators to take the recommendations under consideration for proposing policy changes in the 2022 General Assembly session.

    What are the Expectations?

    From this study, we expect the Commission would begin by looking at what other states are doing to get an initial idea of current methods of prevention and intervention. Afterwards, there would be a process for hearing from stakeholders and the youth themselves. Part of the process may also include some engagement with the workforce to gain the employers’ perspectives as well. There is a significant opportunity for this study to highlight the need for employers to better understand what youth aging out of foster care require in terms of support and the value that they bring to the workforce. Employers need significant education to understand the barriers and provide better support to their employees.

    Youth Involvement?

    Prior to proposing this study, Children’s Home Society had created a panel with several stakeholders, including youth, to identify policy recommendations. The recommendation for the study came out of this panel and all recommendations were approved and endorsed by the youth in their program. As an organization, they are currently talking to their youth about what was supportive and what helped provide successful employment, as well as, what supports would have been needed to better support employment. Additionally, we anticipate the youth voice being involved in the study and from an equity perspective, it is critical that their voices are incorporated. The experiences of youth aging out of foster care are unique and their perspective on solutions, that will or will not work, is priceless. We want to be sure that if we implement a recommendation the youth will buy into it. Otherwise, the impact we seek is unlikely to be realized.

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  4. Recap: Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Day

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    On January 27th, Voices hosted its second annual “Uplifting Young Voices: Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Day”. Due to the pandemic, we shifted our efforts to meet the virtual legislative session like many other advocacy organizations. This change did not stop our dynamic group of young people from having their voices heard!

    2021 Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Cohort

    Derek Lem
    Eva Elliyoun
    Brianna Scott
    Kamaria Wilburn
    Fariha Rahman
    Christopher Mavity

    We are grateful for this group for their willingness to share their stories with legislatures with the hope of changing the lives of other children still in foster care.

    Policy Priorities

    The youth highlighted the 2021 Foster Care Unified Agenda and the need to address systemic racism within the foster care system. They highlighted the growing need to invest in the foster care workforce, specifically highlighting the impact of having multiple caseworkers as children in foster care. The group agreed that for those who aged out the challenge of having a caseworker with a large caseload impacted their ability to achieve permanency or build a transition plan for when they turned 18.

    Legislative Visits

    Youth meeting with Delegate Karrie Delaney and staff.“ We’ve seen enough, we don’t want any other kid to go through what we went through.” – Eva, Youth Advocate

     

    Youth discussing policy priorities with Brendon, staff to Delegate Wendy Gooditis. “I feel pretty confident. The people we met with were engaged and took the time to listen to us.” — Chris

     

    Meeting with Delegate Sickles (Chair of Appropriations) and staff. “It’s a lot to be humbled by our traumas and help each other.” –  Fariha

    What’s Next

    Youth in the cohort will be invited to participate in a policy roundtable with current lawmakers and candidates for office after the legislative session to help build priorities for the 2022 legislative session and the next gubernatorial administration.

  5. Apply Now: Foster Care & Kinship Care Youth Virtual Advocacy Day!

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is looking for 10-15 young people with lived experiences in Virginia’s foster care system and formal/informal kinship care to participate in “Uplifting Young Voices: Foster and Kinship Care Virtual Advocacy Day” in January 2021. Youth will be a part of a cohort where they 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 impact in the systems that have impacted their lives. Youth in the cohort will be provided with an advocacy workshop and media training in the fall, as well as activities that will help them get to know each other. The advocacy day event will include a day of virtual legislative visits, a press briefing, and a virtual round table discussion with key administrative staff to advance reforms in the foster care system. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are strongly encouraged to apply.

    Youth must complete an application to be considered for this opportunity. We cannot guarantee this opportunity again. Applications are now closed. Please contact Allison Gilbreath at allison@vakids.org or 804-649-0184 ext. 102 or Courtney Reece at reecec2@vcu.edu for more information.

    Application Criteria

    • Age: 18-25
    • Must have been in Virginia foster care or formal/informal kinship care or child welfare involvement at one point in time
    • Must currently reside in Virginia

    Participants Receive

    • $150 stipend
    • Advocacy Training
    • Leadership Opportunities

    Dates of Events (must attend all to be included)

    • December 2nd – 7:00 – 8:30 PM (Advocacy training 101)
    • January 6th – 7:00 – 8:00PM (Advocacy training 102)
    • January 25th – 12:00 – 1:00pm (Roundtable Discussion)
    • January 27th – 8:00 – 12:00pm (Advocacy Day)

     

     

  6. Advocating for Improvements to Child Welfare in Special Session

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    The corona virus pandemic makes it even more challenging than the usual for day-to-day care given by  foster and kinship caregivers, and child welfare professionals. Many of these children 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 LDSS’s have seen a decrease in reports to child abuse and neglect but expects a sharp increase when schools reopen. Without the General Assembly’s leadership, child welfare could experience a crisis of its own. The Virginia General Assembly placed all new foster care spending allocated in the budget on hold while the state works to address challenges presented by COVID 19. Special session will be the first opportunity to address funding that was placed on hold. Below, we lay out of 2020 special session budget priorities. 

    The Foster Care Unified Agenda is created by partners from across the Commonwealth who represent policy advocates, service providers, parents and caregivers, and—most especially—youth to identify key legislative opportunities to improve Virginia’s child welfare system.

    Special Session Priorities

    Scale-up Evidence-Based & Community based services to Achieve Better Outcomes for Children and Families

    • Enable providers to implement more trauma-informed, evidence-based, and community based services by funding efforts to train providers in new models. To support implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act we must continue to invest in the infrastructure to scale up evidence-based services. In addition, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the foster care system. Support the funding of community based services will support families by preventing maltreatment of children and responding to needs of families involved in child welfare.
      • REALLOCATE: $15M in Governor’s budget to provide a range of evidence based and trauma-informed mental health, substance use disorder, and in-home parent skill based training to children at risk of entering foster care.
      • REINVEST: $12M to fund community based prevention and intervention programs – with dollars specifically allocated to funds programs targeted at communities of color.

    Stabilize the Foster Care Workforce

    • The 2018 JLARC report highlighted that stability of the foster care workforce as one of the primary challenges. Turnover rates for an entry-level Family Services Worker Specialist is 42%, with retention efforts being an even greater issue is small, rural agencies. The minimum starting salary for an entry level position is $30,828, which is only slightly above the 2019 Federal Poverty Level for a family of four. The impact of the high-turnover of caseworkers on children is found in our low rate of permanency of children and the number of placements children experience. COVID-19 has further burdened the workforce with a combination of hiring freezes and more children with complex needs entering the system.
      • REALLOCATE: $18 Million over two years in Governor’s budget to increase family service specialists position salaries by 20%.

     

    Special session begins on August 18th, follow this page throughout the legislative session for updates.

  7. Continued Momentum: Foster Care in the 2020 Legislative Session

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    In 2019, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission on foster care study revealed Virginia’s longstanding failings in Virginia’s foster care system. It showed a lack of adherence to requirements in some cases, a need to place more children in family-based foster care settings (including kinship care), high caseloads, and a 40% turnover rate in the workforce.

    This year, the Virginia General Assembly invested historic amounts into the foster care system.

    We are grateful to all of the partners who signed onto the Foster Care Unified Agenda and the youth in our 2020 Foster Care & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy cohort. Together, we garnered the attention of legislators and made lasting impacts for the future of children.

    Did you miss Foster Care and Kinship Care Advocacy Day? No worries! Here is a RECAP from this year's 2020 Advocacy Day! Make sure you stay updated on GA Session successes by reading the Voices blog written by Allison Gilbreath as well! https://vakids.org/our-news/blog/continued-momentum-foster-care-in-the-2020-legislative-session

    Posted by Voices for Virginia's Children on Wednesday, March 11, 2020

    2020 Foster Care Bills that Passed

    • School enrollment former foster care | SB275 /HB368| Barker & Caroll Foy| Allows students who turn 18 while in foster care to continue to enroll in the school division where they reside. 
    • Codify Fostering FuturesSB156/HB400 | Favola & Keam | Establishes the Fostering Futures program to provide services and support to individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 who were in foster care as a minor and are transitioning to full adulthood and self-sufficiency.
    • Post-adoption contact and communication agreements; involuntary termination of parental rights |HB721 | Reid | Provides that a child’s birth parent or parents for whom parental rights were involuntarily terminated may enter into a post-adoption contact and communication agreement with the child’s pre-adoptive parent or parents.
    • Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; eligibility; fictive kin | HB933 & SB178 | Brewer/Carroll Foy, & Mason | Expands eligibility for the Kinship Guardianship Assistance program to fictive kin (a person who the child has a history of a strong relationship with who is not related by blood). 
    • Office of the Children’s Ombudsman established | HB1301 | Hurst | Establishes the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman as a means of effecting changes in policy, procedure, and legislation.
    • Guardian ad litem for children; certification of compliance with certain standards | HB137 | Collins |  The bill requires a guardian ad litem to file with the court a certification specifically addressing meeting face-to-face contact with the child.
    • Kinship foster care; training and approval processes | SB1025 | Dunnavant |Requires local boards of social services to request a waiver of training requirements necessary for the approval of a kinship foster parent upon determining that training requirements are a barrier to placement with the kinship foster parent and that such placement is in the child’s best interest.

    Budget Investments: Foster Care

    Foster Care Workforce

    • $5.6 million each year for local Department of Social Services caseworkers to increase base salaries and reduce salary compression.
    • $500,000 each year for the foster care omnibus bill to continue efforts started in 2019.
    • $250,000 provides the agency with funding for a consultant to assist in evaluating the agency’s system needs (OASIS) and developing a detailed plan to be considered before committing funding in order to ensure the Commonwealth procures the appropriate data tracking system.

    Kinship Care

    • $8.5 million in TANF each year for kinship relative payments
      • Families would receive an additional $200 per child through this program, in addition to the child-only TANF amounts they currently receive. Under this new program, a caregiver raising two relative children would receive approximately $726 per month.
    • Increase TANF cash assistance and eligibility by 15 percent
      • Families who were previously kinship care givers will receive this increase starting July 2020. Any new kinship families approved as child-only cases will receive payment increases of approximately $55 per month.
    • Directs the Department of Social Services to develop a plan to provide access statewide to a Kinship Navigator Program.
    • The Department of Social Services will create an emergency approval process for kinship caregivers and develop foster home certification standards for kinship caregivers
    • KinGap is expanded to Fictive Kin (a person who the child has a history of a strong relationship with who is not related by blood) 

    Family First Prevention Services Act

    • $8 million per year for evidence-based services approved by the federal clearinghouse and $1.5 million each year for an evaluation team.
    • $30.4 million total over two years for local prevention service units.

    Drivers License for Youth in Foster Care

    Establishing an Office of Children’s Ombudsman

  8. 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.

     

  9. 2020 Legislative Session Advocating For Kids In Foster Care (Updated Feb. 21st)

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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.

    The Foster Care Unified Agenda is created by partners from across the Commonwealth who represent policy advocates, service providers, parents and caregivers, and—most especially—youth to identify key legislative opportunities to improve Virginia’s child welfare system.

    In 2019, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission on foster care study revealed Virginia’s longstanding failings in Virginia’s foster care system. It showed a lack of adherence to requirements in some cases, a need to place more children in family-based foster care settings (including kinship care), high caseloads, and a 40% turnover rate in the workforce. In 2019, the legislature made several sweeping reforms to the foster care system. However, this year the foster care unified agenda is focused on continuing momentum and advancing needed financial investments into foster care.

    Members Include:

     

    Bills We Support:

    • School enrollment former foster care | SB275 | Barker | Provides for the immediate enrollment of any student who was in foster care upon reaching 18 years of age but who has not yet reached 22 years of age for whom the local department of social services or child-placing agency is unable to produce documents normally required for enrollment. 
      • Update: This bill has passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • Codify fostering futuresSB156/HB400 | Favola & Keam | Establishes the Fostering Futures program to provide services and support to individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 who were in foster care as a minor and are transitioning to full adulthood and self-sufficiency. (this program has been running since 2016 through budget language, this would put the program in law)
      • Update: Both versions have passed the General Assembly and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • Post-adoption contact and communication agreements; involuntary termination of parental rights |HB721 | Reid | Provides that a child’s birth parent or parents for whom parental rights were involuntarily terminated may enter into a post-adoption contact and communication agreement with the child’s pre-adoptive parent or parents.
      • Update: This bill has passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; eligibility; fictive kin | HB933 & SB178 | Brewer, Carroll-Foy, & Mason | Expands eligibility for the Kinship Guardianship Assistance program by allowing payments to be made to fictive kin who receive custody of a child of whom they had been the foster parent.
      • Update: Both bills have passed the General Assembly and await the Governor’s signature! 
    • State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; created. | HB920 & SB570 | Brewer & Mason | Creates the State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program (the program) to facilitate child placements with relatives, including fictive kin, and ensure permanency for children in foster care. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.

      • Update: The House version was laid on the table (died) in House Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee 
      • Update: The Senate version funding was included in the Senate proposed budget. The bill passed out of the social services subcommittee of Health, Welfare, and Institutions was sent to the money committee. Funding for this bill was not included in the House budget so money committee members will have to go into a meeting to determine if this will be included in the final budget. 
    • Office of the Children’s Ombudsman established | HB1301 | Hurst | Establishes the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman as a means of effecting changes in policy, procedure, and legislation; educating the public; investigating and reviewing actions of the State Department of Social Services, local departments of social services, child-placing agencies, or child-caring institutions; and monitoring and ensuring compliance with relevant statutes, rules, and policies pertaining to children’s protective services and the placement, supervision, treatment, and improvement of delivery of care to children in foster care and adoptive homes. The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is headed by the Children’s Ombudsman, who is appointed for a term of four years by the Governor and subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. 
      • Update: This bill passed out of Senate General Laws and was sent to the Senate money committee. Funding for the Ombudsman office was included in the House budget but not in the Senate budget. Members of the money committee will go into conference to determine if funding will be included in the final budget. 
    • Guardian ad litem for children; certification of compliance with certain standards | HB137 | Collins | Requires guardians ad litem appointed to represent a child in a matter to conduct an investigation in compliance with certain standards. The bill requires a guardian ad litem to file with the court, along with any attorney representing a party or party proceeding pro se, a certification of the guardian ad litem’s compliance with such standards, specifically addressing such standards requiring face-to-face contact with the child. The bill further requires the guardian ad litem to document the hours spent satisfying such face-to-face contact requirements and specifies that compensation for such contact shall be at the same rate as that for in-court service.

      • Update: This bill has passed out of the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature! 

    • Kinship foster care; training and approval processes | SB1025 | Dunnavant |Requires local boards of social services to request a waiver of training requirements necessary for the approval of a kinship foster parent upon determining that training requirements are a barrier to placement with the kinship foster parent and that such placement is in the child’s best interest. The bill prohibits local boards from requiring that a child be removed from the physical custody of a kinship foster parent during such approval process. The bill requires the Department of Social Services to (i) develop a training program that is tailored to persons seeking approval as a kinship foster parent, (ii) develop a document that provides comprehensive information regarding kinship foster care, and (iii) provide training to local boards regarding the process through which a person may be approved as a kinship foster parent without requiring removal of the child from the physical custody of such person.

      • Update: This bill has passed out of Health, Welfare, and Institutions committee and awaits to be read on the House floor. 

    Budget Items We Support:

    For a more comprehensive update on where items stand in the budget, visit our blog.

    • In the Governor’s Proposed Budget

      • $18 Million over two years to increase family service specialists position salaries 20%
      • $22 Million over two years spread across child welfare system improvements (technology improvements, etc.)
      • $16 Million over two years to provide relatives support payments for relatives caring for children outside of foster care (first time ever!)
      • $66 Million over 2 years to provide funding to local departments of social services to begin hiring staff and creating their prevention services departments in response to FFPSA
      • $4 Million over 2 years to fund start up fees, program development, curriculum materials, and implementation and sustainability supports for evidence based programming through the FFPSA
      • $5 Million over 2 years to fund positions to create an evidence-based programs evaluation team
      • $33 Million over 2 years to provide evidence based and trauma-informed mental health, substance use disorder, and in-home parent skill based training to children at imminent risk of entering foster care.
    • Budget Amendments:

      • Driver’s License Program for Foster Care Youth | $250,000 | Item 354 #6 (Keam) & 354#9s (Favola)  – a proposed amendment that would provide the Virginia Department of Social Services funds to provide reimbursements to foster care parents for increases to their car insurance for foster youth, provide youth with reimbursements, and provide assistance to youth in fostering futures assistance with car insurance premiums

        • Update: This budget amendment was included in the Senate budget but not the House. This means members of the money committees will determine if it gets included in the final budget. 
      • Training Academy Model for Family Services Programs | $1.9 Million |  Item 359#2h (Bulova) & 359#1s (Marsden) – (This amendment adds $200,000 the first year and $1.7 million the second year from the general fund and a like amount of federal matching dollars for the Department of Social Services to create a Training Academy Model for family services specialists working in the family services programs. The funding is phased in with the first phase funding providing for five curriculum developers to update current training modules and design a more efficient and up-to-date training program. The second phase would fully implement the Training Academy Model providing for 31 positions including 15 trainers, 10 coaches, five curriculum developers, and one supervisor. The current training takes workers two years to complete, however, they may carry significant caseloads before they have received the training and the initial training does not prepare workers to handle demanding and complicated caseloads. This is a recommendation of the Commission on Youth.)

        • Update: This budget amendment was adjusted to 1 Million and was only included in the Senate budget. This means members of the money committees will determine if it gets included in the final budget. 
      • Child Welfare Stipend Program | $1 Million | Item 354#3s (Favola) & 354#5h (Mullin) –  The Child Welfare Stipend Program (CWSP) is a partnership between the Virginia Department of Social Services and five universities. This specialized training program, funded through Title IV-E prepares social work students for a career in child welfare. Because of Title IV-E funding rules, stipend program workers must spend at least 51 percent of their time in foster care/adoption work. This is a barrier to many rural departments because they do not have positions that work 51 percent in that area. As a result, small rural agencies do not benefit from the stipend program as they cannot hire stipend graduates. These local departments have a turnover rate of 61 percent. In order to help stabilize the child welfare workforce, a state-funded stipend program is needed to help support smaller agencies. Stipends have the potential to increase the stability and quality of the child welfare workforce by providing education incentives to encourage social work students to specialize in child welfare. Students accepted into this program receive a $10,000 stipend per academic year.
        • Update: This was not included in the House or Senate budget. 

     

    In the News:

    Kinship care’ foster families would get money in proposed budgetVirginia Mercury: December 19, 2019

    Foster Care Caucus plans to build on momentum in its second legislative session – Richmond Times Dispatch – January 15, 2020

    Lawmakers Want to Help Foster Care Youth Get Driver’s LicensesVPM – February 6, 2020

  10. Kinship Care Proposals in the 2020 Legislative Session

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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 at-risk of entering foster care 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 step up, but are unable to do so because of lack of resources and support.

    2020 Session Kinship Care Proposals Under Consideration

    Relative Support Payments for Children Outside of Foster Care

    Proposal

    The Governor included $16 million over two years to provide financial support payments for relatives caring for children outside of foster care.  This program would only be available for children going into kinship care after July 1, 2020.

    Impact

    Families would receive an additional $200 per child through this program, in addition to the child-only TANF amounts they are currently eligible for. Under this new program, a caregiver raising two relative children would receive approximately $726 per month.

    State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (SB570- Mason; HB920- Brewer)

    Proposal

    KinGAP was established in Virginia in 2018 to facilitate placements with relatives and ensure permanency for children for whom adoption or being returned home are not appropriate. The bill would do the following:

    • Remove the requirement found in the federal KinGAP for the potential guardian to be a licensed foster parent for the child for six consecutive months, that being returned home or adopted is not an appropriate permanency option for the child and adds the requirement that “the placement of the child in the home of the prospective kinship guardian is in the child’s best interest.”

    The Impact

    This will increase enrollment for children enrolled in KinGAP and help more children achieve permanency.

    Kinship Guardianship Assistance program; eligibility for fictive kin (SB178- Favola;HB 933– Carroll Foy)

    Proposal 

    Expands eligibility for the Kinship Guardianship Assistance program (described above) by allowing payments to be made to fictive kin who receive custody of a child of whom they had been the foster parent. Fictive kin are those who can demonstrate an existing relationship to the child at-risk of entering foster care.

    Impact

    This will increase enrollment for children enrolled in KinGAP and help more children achieve permanency.

    Kinship foster care; training and approval processes (SB1025- Dunnavant)

    Proposal

    This bill would require local departments of social services to waive training requirements necessary for the approval of a kinship foster parent upon determining that training requirements are a barrier to placement with the relative or kin. The bill prohibits social services from requiring that a child be removed from the physical custody of a kinship foster parent during such approval process.

    Impact

    This bill addresses many the concerns from kinship families who want to quickly have custody of children, but do not want to risk the child not being placed in their home upon formally entering foster care.

    Kinship Care Impacted Advocacy

    We are grateful to families across the Commonwealth who have participated over the past several years to educate lawmakers about kinship care. In 2017, Voices went on a kinship care listening tour where we heard stories of hardship and resilience. We would not have gotten this far without the families willingness to share their stories with us and legislators.

    Kinship Support Group of Chesterfield

    Kinship Care Support Group meeting with Senator Dunnavant