Tag Archive: permanency

  1. Less than 5 Percent of Foster Youth Obtain a Driver’s Licenses While in Care: How Virginia Lawmakers Can Change That


    The Problem

    Learning to drive in the teen years is a rite of passage to young adulthood for millions of youth. It brings new levels of independence and opportunities, enabling young people to take themselves to schools, work, and activities.  However, 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. Without a driver’s license, young people in foster care often miss out on age-appropriate adolescent experiences and opportunities that contribute to success in adulthood.

    The Impact

    Voices has hosted focus groups with youth in care for several years and no matter what region of Virginia we are in  –  obtaining drivers licenses is a reoccurring theme. The emotions attached to not having a drivers license ranged from disappointment of not being able to accept a job offer to frustration from not feeling supported by the adults in their lives. Youth in care, more than anything, want to have the same opportunities they would have had if they were not in foster care.

    In Virginia, less than 5 percent of foster care youth who age out of care and transition to adulthood have obtained their driver’s licenses

    According to the study from the Commission on Youth:

    Foster care youth who fail to learn to drive and obtain their licenses at the same time as their peers are impacted in several ways:

    • Normalcy. Foster youth who do not learn to drive at the same time as their peers miss this important rite of passage of adolescence. They can also miss out on crucial developmental experiences and opportunities that are typically made possible by being able to drive
    • Safety. Foster youth who wait until they are 18 to learn to drive do not benefit from Virginia’s provisional driver’s licensing program for youthful drivers, which has been proven to reduce accidents among teen aged drivers.
    • Transition to adulthood. Foster youth who leave care without a license are less prepared to make the transition to adulthood, both because they have not had the same developmental experiences as their peers, and because they lack transportation.

    The Solution

    Virginia lawmakers have the opportunity to invest $250,000 in the budget to support the development and implementation of a statewide driver’s licensing program to support foster care youth in obtaining a driver’s license. If included in the budget, funds would be made available to local departments of social services to reimburse foster care providers for increases to their existing car insurance premiums that occur because a foster care youth in their care has been added to their insurance policy. Additionally, funding would be made available to foster care youth in Virginia’s Fostering Futures Program to assist in covering the cost of obtaining motor vehicle insurance.

    The Department would coordinate and administer the driver’s licensing program based on best practices from similar programs in other states like Florida’s Keys to Independence program.

    Delegate Keam (Item 354 #6) and Senator Favola (354#9s)are carrying these budget amendments in the House and Senate. Let your legislator know how important responding to our action alert.

    Action Alert

    Tell Legislators to Support Youth in Foster Care Obtaining a Drivers License

  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.