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  1. 2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

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

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

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

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

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

     

    2022 Youth Advocacy Cohort Application

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

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the child care sector in Virginia. Our policymakers must take measures to stabilize the sector and ensure children have safe and nurturing care when parents return to work. One year after the beginning of the pandemic, 90% of regulated child care facilities have reopened in Virginia and leaders have taken positive steps to help stabilize the sector. Congress has provided billions in child care relief, including more than $1 billion to Virginia’s child care sector. State lawmakers have improved eligibility criteria so that more families can benefit and they have passed legislation to change how we pay for child care in the future—through contracts to guarantee availability and income, and to evaluate paying by true costs instead of market rates.

    These are positive steps, but they are taken on shaky ground. The child care sector is not stable. There are continued shifts in parent preferences and waves in labor force participation. Young children are still a long way from being eligible for vaccines and child care providers rely on continuing COVID-19 precautions and avoiding potential risks for students and staff for the foreseeable future. Workforce shortages are being reported where early childhood educators are hard to find, especially when the pay at less risky work environments (Amazon, retail, food service) is much better.

    This month’s opportunity to comment on the Child Care Development Fund State Plan allows advocates to weigh in on what is needed to stabilize the child care sector and how to use state and federal funds. The state plan document creates the framework for how Virginia spends Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) dollars. In this case, the plan will direct how $305 million in child care funds and $488 million in child care stabilization funds from the American Rescue Plan are spent over the next three years.

    Advocacy Opportunity: Comment on the State Child Care Development Fund Plan

    1. Review the plan online: https://www.dss.virginia.gov/ccecd/.
    2. RSVP to jamie.dungee@dss.virginia.gov to attend a virtual hearing on Monday June 7th 10:00 AM- 12:00 PM or 6:00- 8:00 PM.
    3. Submit written comments to ccdfplan@dss.virginia.gov.

    As in the past, Voices will submit comments on the state plan framework. This year, we are focused on how these funds can be spent to stabilize the sector and promote an equitable recovery with a focus on the child care workforce. Our comments will ask the state leaders to take these steps:

    1. Dedicate a portion of stabilization grants specifically to educator compensation. To increase pay and to attract and retain a workforce, stabilization funds must be dedicated to compensation. With stabilization grants anticipated to be awarded to child care programs as formula grants, there should be an add-on grant for providers who guarantee to raise employees’ pay through hazard pay, recruitment or retention bonuses.

    With child care plans under review in other states, several have taken approaches to dedicate a portion of funds to compensation. Initial plans from Connecticut signaled formula grants using stabilization funds and compensation add-ons would be available. And several states (New Mexico, North Carolina and Washington) have used previous federal relief funds to provide bonus payments. We are also asking state leaders to:

    1. Invest in systems and supports so that all parts of the sector can stabilize. There are opportunities to establish systems and procedures for wrap around supports to the sector. Several options to consider include:
      • Invest in networks to provide “back-end” supports, such as accounting, billing and benefit practices, particularly to the independent family child care providers.
      • Establish processes for any child care program to access mental health consultation for students and staff. Funds can be used to improve access to professionals to consult with educators and to provide services directly to students.
      • Establish systems-level navigators to connect early educators and community health, nutrition, mental health and developmental services. Comprehensive support for the family is a critical element of positive early childhood development. The early childhood sector should lead the way in helping to connect families and the supports they need.

    Subscribe to our emails to learn about other advocacy opportunities and receive the latest news on early care and education.

  3. 2021 GA Session: Conference Budget Report

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    The 2021 General Assembly is coming to a close with good news for children and families. While the last year has produced tremendous disruptions and up and downs for families, the revenue picture in Virginia is in better shape than expected and lawmakers were able to restore many initiatives that were unallocated last year and identify new ways to repair systems to provide a more equitable foundation.

    Our issue specific blog posts will include more details on the full budget package next week. Below are some of the highlights state legislators are proposing to go above and beyond the Governor’s introduced budget. Most changes included below would go into effect July 1, 2021.

    Health Care Access and Prenatal Care:

    • Providing health care coverage prenatally for pregnant women who are immigrants. Funding is included in the budget to direct Virginia to provide Medicaid/FAMIS coverage for low-income pregnant women who are immigrants. Currently, this population only receives coverage for the birth and delivery, not comprehensive prenatal coverage.
    • Funding and training for doula care for eligible pregnant women.
    • Language directing the state to begin exploring the costs and benefits of providing health care coverage for all immigrant children.
    • Directing the state to develop a plan for a Medicaid benefit for home visiting.

    Children’s Mental Health:

    • Restoring $1.6 million to expand the Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program. This initiative is critical to incentivize more clinicians to enter the field and to diversify the workforce.
    • Language directing DOE to begin implementing the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Program and report on additional legislative or regulatory changes needed.

    Pre-K–12 Education and Education Equity:

    • Increasing the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) per pupil amount to $7,655 as introduced in the Governor’s budget to reflect per pupil costs for high quality instruction. VPI has historically underfunded the cost to provide high quality early education for disadvantaged students.
    • Including $49 million to hire additional student support staff such as social workers, nurses and psychologists and funding in the introduced budget for additional school counselors.

    Family Economic Security:

    • Increasing the TANF Standards of Assistance by 10%, including both eligibility and cash assistance payments.
    • Including $2.1 million TANF funded Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) so that TANF-eligible individuals may save funds in an individual development account established for the purposes of home purchase, education, starting a business, transportation, or other needs.
    • Including an additional $2 million for the Virginia Food Access Investment Program. This program will decrease food deserts in rural and urban communities through retail investments.
    • $6.9 million in funding for paid sick leave for personal care attendants. We are disappointed that a larger population was not considered but recognize this as a first step in ensuring frontline workers have access to paid time off.

    Trauma-Informed Care:

    • Restoring $143,000 to implement the ACEs Interface training initiative. This also supports a full-time Central Office position to provide oversight over 100 ACE Interface Master Trainers and facilitate additional training.

    Child Welfare:

    • Extended payments for those aging out of Fostering Futures. Adds language to extend payments to children aging out of the Fostering Futures program through September 2021.
    • Casework Salary Increases Restores $2.2 million for local social services departments’ (LDSS) to increase minimum salary levels for LDSS family services by 20 percent.
    • Created State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program to facilitate child placements with relatives, including fictive kin, and ensure permanency for children. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.

    For more updates on budget and the 2021 General Assembly session results, subscribe to our policy emails.

  4. Our Child Welfare Legislative Agenda: Older Youth & Kinship Care

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    For the past few years in our child welfare work, we’ve been focused on a longer-term plan to bring “better best practices” to two policy areas: issues faced by older youth in foster care and the use of kinship care in both informal and formal capacities. During this year’s General Assembly session, Voices–along with our child welfare advocacy partners FACES of Virginia Families and the Virginia Poverty Law Center–has asked legislators to introduce legislation in both of these areas. We’ll be actively advocating on these specific bills and budget items, and also lending our voice in support of some additional measures put forth this year by others.

    You can find our Child Welfare Policy Coalition Agenda here for more details.

    Older Youth in Foster Care & Youth Who Have “Aged Out” of Care:

    Since 2008, more than 4350 youth have “aged out” of Virginia’s foster care system, meaning they have turned 18 while still in care and without having been connected to permanent families through adoption, returning home to parents, or having custody transferred to a relative. Young people who “age out” of foster care face considerable risks and challenges, more so than most of their peers not in care, including increased risks of: homelessness, unemployment, school drop-out, health problems, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

    In an effort to reduce these risks and offer these young people more support during this critical transition from youth to adulthood, Voices brought a policy initiative to the McDonnell administration that would expand foster care services to youth who have “aged out” of care up to age 21, to include increased support for housing and case management, among other benefits. Governor McDonnell included our recommendations in his outgoing budget, which now exists as the budget bill for this year’s legislative session (SB 30 & HB 30).

    Voices, along with our advocacy partners, will be working to preserve this funding in the budget, and will also be supporting a companion bill introduced by Senator Favola, SB 277, which directs the Virginia Department of Social Services to opt in to this “extension of foster care services to age 21” and provide quarterly progress reports to the General Assembly on this effort.

    This new program will also extend adoption assistance benefits to youth who are adopted out of foster care at age 16 or older, which will also keep an important focus on older-youth adoptions and increase the number of foster youth connected with families.

    Medicaid Eligibility for Youth “Aging Out” of Foster Care

    Del. McClellan and Del. Peace (Item 301 #6h), as well as Sen. Howell (Item 301 #18s), put in budget language at our request that would allow Medicaid eligibility for youth who aged out of foster care in another state, but now reside in Virginia. This effort would mirror the Affordable Care Act mandate that provides such eligibility for all foster youth living in the Commonwealth who age out of our own foster care system. By closing this loophole, Virginia would stand at the forefront of providing critical protections for these vulnerable youth, recognizing this population is often very mobile, living without safe, consistent housing, and lacking family connections that would entitle them to coverage under a parent’s private insurance.

    Kinship Care:

    SB 284 (Sen. Howell)

    We’re also working on SB 284, which would direct the Virginia Department of Social Services to establish regulations around the practice of “kinship diversion.” Through “diversion,” children move in with relatives and “fictive kin” after social workers determine they cannot safely remain with their parents. Social workers facilitate these informal placements, working with the parent and kinship caregiver.

    Problems can arise because no court oversees these physical custody transfers, and neither the parent nor the child is appointed an attorney for advice. In some cases, children remain with relatives for years; parents may have little or no knowledge of how to get their children home and there is no requirement that a plan be developed to attempt to reunite the children with their parents. Relatives caring for these children have little or no access to the financial support and services that licensed relative foster parents receive and usually lack information about how to access services for the child.

    We believe that regulations will help to support best practices for kinship diversion, and ensure those best practices are used throughout the state.

    SB 400 (Sen. Reeves)

    This bill provides an additional layer of protection for licensed kinship foster families who have relative children placed with them by ensuring that before relative children are removed from the kinship home for non-safety reasons, either a family partnership meeting or a judicial review of the placement change must occur first, to ensure that removing the child is truly in his or her best interests. We know that using kinship care is best practice in child welfare, and aim to provide a bit more stability to its use through this effort.

    We’ll keep you updated on these and other child welfare-related bills this session! And please let us know if you have any questions or feedback–email Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard at amy@vakids.org.