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  1. Announcement: New Youth Development Program by Voices

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    We are excited to announce a new youth development program at Voices for Virginia’s Children. This new program is in the early stages of planning, and we’re delighted to be working with Tiara Whitfield, CEO of AdoLESSONS LLC, a Richmond-based consulting firm, whose extensive experiences in youth development programming have been an asset on this journey. This youth development program will enhance young people’s ability to engage with legislators and decision-makers to advance their communities through advocacy, storytelling, and community engagement.

    How It Will Work

    This August, we are launching several compensated focus groups with youth and young adults, to help determine everything from the program name to learning objectives. We are also spending time connecting with existing youth programs and partner organizations that have been leaders in this work.

    Our inaugural group will be open to Virginia residents between the ages of 15 – 25. Members will be paid a stipend for their participation throughout the year. In August and September, we aim to begin recruiting ten pilot group participants for our first cohort, with workshops beginning in September 2022. Program participants will take part in training that will prepare them for state-level legislative advocacy for the 2023 Virginia General Assembly. After the legislative session, this year’s pilot program will continue building skills and strategizing year-long advocacy initiatives and projects.

    What Participants Will Gain

    Through participating in this program, members will accomplish the following:

    • Understand the legislative process and procedures in Virginia.
    • Develop skills in leadership, storytelling, social change, advocacy and activism.
    • Inform and advise policymakers on legislation pertaining to young people, families, and their communities.

    Youth development programs benefit their participants in many ways, enhancing or improving soft skills, social skills, and social emotional learning. Our goal is to provide evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and economics and that further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others. We hope to hone participants’ public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills and empower participants to use their voices, passions, and skills to make progress in areas where change is slow or unjust and at moments when society’s most marginalized communities are underrepresented.

    How We Got Here

    In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children hosted our first Foster Care Advocacy Cohort, a landmark pivot towards truly incorporating young voices and lived experiences in our policy work and advocacy. In our mission to champion public policies that improve the lives of Virginia’s children, we have created opportunities piece by piece for young people to have seats at the table. For several years we continued to develop advocacy cohorts to center young voices and stories, culminating in this year’s inaugural Youth Advocacy Cohort, our youngest group of advocates to date, ranging from 14 – 25 years old. As we continue to convene young people and generate opportunities for them to participate in the change that would liberate us all, it is essential to empower and activate these young advocates and leaders. We began imagining a program that could mentor, nurture, educate, and train young changemakers. We dreamed of a space where youth could learn about power, equity, justice, storytelling, and the legislative process so that they would have the skills to not only take their seats at the table but also to lead the whole meeting.

    Young people are critical partners in the work of imagining and building a more just and equitable Virginia. With this developing program, we are grateful to be positioning ourselves to be the voices of Virginia’s children and young people and enhancing our ability to develop youth advocates. We are thankful to our partners and youth consultants in developing this program and are looking forward to what is to come.

  2. Guest Blog: Keys to Destination for Youth in Foster Care

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    This is a guest blog post written for Voices for Virginia’s Children by Susan Hoover (pictured below).

    Recall the day you obtained your driver’s license. Perhaps one of your parents took you to the DMV, helped you fill out the necessary forms, provided the requisite identification, and off you went to pass or fail the final test. Assuming you passed, all you wanted to do then was hop in the family car and drive somewhere. It didn’t matter where, right?

    Now imagine having your new-found freedom abruptly curtailed as the cost of insurance to cover your driving is too high for the family budget. Although many parents bite the bullet and add their new driver to the family auto insurance plan, it is at a hefty cost, especially when the driver is less than 25 years old.

    Nationwide, Americans spend about 2.44% of their household income on car insurance every year. In Virginia, the average cost of car insurance is $1,304 per year for full coverage.  Of course, the actual rate depends on many factors, such as the area where one lives, the age of the driver, driving history (if any), the specific insurance company, and even the type of vehicle to be driven.

    As expected, having a young driver means paying a premium for auto insurance, particularly for those drivers between 16-18 years old. In addition to the factors listed above, insurance companies also take into account the high average number of accidents and traffic-related fatalities for that age range when determining rates. It costs a lot to insure these new drivers – often more than those living in the low to middle income range can afford.

    Now consider whether the new driver is currently a part of the state foster care system. In this case, more often than not, financial means are already stretched. So how can the youth or the foster family possibly add the additional cost of more car insurance to their budget?

    Enter proposed Budget Amendment SB30.

    This amendment, coming before the 2022 Session, enables the Department of Social Services to develop and implement a statewide driver’s licensing program to support foster care youth. In effect, funding – in the proposed amount of $200,000 each year – will be made available to local departments of social services to reimburse:

    • Foster care providers for the increase to their existing motor vehicle insurance premium that occurs when adding foster care youth to their insurance policy;
    • Foster care providers when they apply for and obtain additional coverage, such as an umbrella policy, to provide liability protection should the foster care youth get into, or cause, a catastrophic accident; and
    • Foster care youth who are part of Virginia’s Fostering Futures Program to assist them in covering the cost of obtaining their own motor vehicle insurance.

    The Amendment further allows for:

    Each department of social services to develop educational or training materials that “educate foster parents, private providers, and foster youth about: (i) liability issues, insurance laws, and common insurance practices (to include laws about renewal and cancellation, how long an accident can affect premiums, how to establish that a foster youth is no longer living in the residence, and other applicable topics); (ii) DMV requirements to obtain a learner’s permit and driver’s license; (iii) what funding and resources are available to assist in this process, to include paying school lab fees for “Behind the Wheel” or paying a private driving education company; and (iv) why getting a driver’s license on time is important for normalcy and a successful transition to adulthood.”

    The benefits of this Amendment would be immediate for foster families and for the youth they care for. The financial burden of increased car insurance would be lifted, and the new driver would have the ability to drive to a job, school, or to assist with errands. It would help encourage a sense of responsibility, independence, and maturity for these youth.

    For those youth in the Fostering Futures Program, passing this Amendment could significantly lessen the transportation burden many of them face. The possibility of owning or driving a car, rather than be dependent upon public transportation – its time tables and the specific geographic area it serves – broadens the job market and the ability to attend higher education institutions – two requirements of involvement in the Fostering Futures program.

    About Susan Hoover: Sue Hoover joined Piedmont CASA in April 2019. Previously, she worked for CFA Institute as the editor of Connexions, and as the digital editor of the Enterprising Investor blog. She holds a BA degree from Lehigh University and a JD degree from the Washington College of Law, American University.

    Contact Susan at: shoover@pcasa.org

     

     

  3. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap

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    (Pictured above: Cohort members and Voices’ staff take a “before” picture before embarking on their legislative meetings.)

    “Keep going. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody silence your voice. Don’t ever let you silence your voice. Understand the importance of what you do… Keep pushing, because one day it will really pay off.” – Jonathan, 15 years old, from Hampton, VA

     

    Our 2022 Advocacy Cohort completed their Youth Advocacy Day on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Fifteen youth and young adults, ages 14 – 25, divided into four small but mighty groups to meet with fifteen policymakers (a combination of Delegates and Senators) throughout the afternoon. Advocates presented on key issues impacting themselves and their communities such as the state of youth mental health, improvements for the foster care system, needed supports and protections for LGBTIQIA+ youth, and equitable access to health coverage.

    “I talked about being trans and the discrimination that LGBTQ kids face in schools, and the fact that we endure so much… People are really hateful and spiteful and say horrible things… I’ve been asking for there to be some sort of set punishment and just understanding of why [these protections] are so important.” – Grace, 14 years old

    “Whether we’re fighting for health care or mental health services or more inclusive classrooms or more inclusive language or anything of that nature, my main thing was just making sure that we’re considering our young people every step of the way, because the choices that our policymakers and legislators make today, we’re gonna have to deal with tomorrow.” – Elijah, 14 years old

    Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer

    (Pictured above: Several cohort members and Voices’ staff meet with Del. Conyer.)

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.” – Aaliyana, 16 years old

    “I talked about how bullying is equated to hate crimes at the moment and how that’s just unacceptable because they are two very different things. I asked a lot of the people we spoke with to start building [more protective] systems into schools.” – Chanel, 19 years old

    Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey

    (Pictured above: Cohort members presenting to Sen. McClellan’s office with Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey.)

    “There’s just a lack of help… because of language access. I also talked about health insurance and… the human right to just being able to access [medical and mental health treatment].” – Naomi, 17 years old

    Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney

    (Pictured above: Cohort members advocate for youth mental health support with Del. Delaney.)

    Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath

    (Pictured above: Advocates meeting with Sen. Mason’s offices with Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath.)

    Originally scheduled to be a series of in-person events and legislative meetings, the cohort quickly pivoted in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and worked together to support and encourage one another throughout the virtual advocacy day. Cohort participants worked with Policy Team members to practice storytelling and connecting their experiences to policy and upcoming legislation.

    This group of changemakers left legislators and the Voices’ team completely inspired, moved, and awe-struck. We know their courageous storytelling is making incredible impact and we were honored and humbled to support them on their advocacy journeys.

  4. 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.

     

  5. 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.

  6. 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)

     

     

  7. Donor Spotlight: Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe

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    Guest author — Voices intern Megan Gianforte

    Organizations evolve over time with many pivots, but one thing that has remained constant through the life of Voices for Virginia’s Children is the support of Reverend Canon J. Fletcher Lowe. Whether serving as a community partner, board member or donor, Lowe has been a rock since the early years for Voices.

    A South Carolina native, Lowe started in the Navy for two years before going to the seminary. He became an Episcopalian priest in New York and served in churches all around the eastern United States, as well as across Europe. After years of travel, Lowe and his wife Mary Fran chose to settle in Virginia.

    During a recent interview, Lowe shared that his affiliation with Voices dates back to his days on West Grace Street when he served as the director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy Criminal Justice Reform. During that young growth period, for what was then called the Action Alliance for Virginia’s Children, he was highly involved in assisting with the alliance and advocacy components. When he left the Interfaith Center in 2004, he was brought onto Voices’ board, where he served for nine years.

    Lowe’s modesty cannot hide his own significant role in the financial development and successes of Voices. Backtracking to the time of his record-breaking lacrosse career at Washington and Lee University, where he majored in economics, Lowe has brought his economic discipline into every career role; he specifically ensured that Voices’ budgeting was working efficiently and received sufficient representation at board meetings. Lowe was always the man to question, “OK what are the yellow and red flags we need to be aware of?” The finance committee always had Lowe to be the seal of assurance.

    Lowe understands that Voices has the platform to be a major influence for Virginia’s youth, not only with the General Assembly, but also with other organizations who carry out the hands-on work to gain support, funding or services. “The credibility that Voices has developed is remarkable, and to see how they perform the high-quality work that they do, is gratifying,” he said. His pride and trust in Voices’ work is overflowing and backed by the impact he knows Voices is making in communities. When questioned as to what else Lowe wants to see from Voices, the answer was simple − “more of the same.”

  8. Improvements to school lock-down drills in Virginia (Updated 2.20.20)

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    School lock-down drills, also known as “Active Shooter Drills” have become nearly ubiquitous in public schools across the nation. While the intent of  lock-down drills is to prepare teachers and students to protect themselves if faced with an unimaginable dangerous situation, recent reports and statements from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association cite the traumatic effect these drills are having on some children and a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these drills.

    Currently in Virginia, all public schools are required to perform at least four lock-down drills per school calendar year. Two bills focusing on improvements to school lock-down drill practices have made progress during the 2020 General Assembly session.

     

    2020 legislation to improve school lock-down drills 

    Delegate and high school teacher,  Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, patroned  HB270, which addresses parental notice of upcoming lock-down drills. Specifically, this bill requires every public school to give parents at least 24hours’ notice before conducting any lock-down drills. Defeated in committee during the 2019, this bill is incredibly important because it give families an opportunity to have conversations with their children about the purpose of these drills and respond to questions or fears kids may have about these active shooter drills.

     

    These lock-down drills impact not just high school students, but kindergarteners as well (and some children in public pre-k, too!) and it’s important to remember that 5 year olds and 17 year olds are at very different developmental stages. All children and youth require the support of their families or trusted adults to help them regulate their emotions. Giving families notice about a potentially scary event, allows families the opportunity to provide the emotional support all children need.

     

    Equally as important, Delegate Mark Keam-Fairfax Co, sponsored HB402, a bill that exempts Pre-k and Kindergarten students from mandatory participation in lock-down drills during the first 60-days of school.  In implementing this exemption,  Principals  at each relevant school  are given the option to 1) conduct teacher-only drills or other suitable training for pre-k and kindergarten teachers or 2) notify each parent of pre-k and kindergarten student at least five school days in advance of each planned lock-down drill and permit parents to opt their child out of participating in these drills during the first 60 days of school. Pre-k and kindergarten students will still be required to participate in each lock-down drills after the first 60 days of the school session.

    Update: Both bills successfully passed out of Senate committees this morning and are headed to the Senate floor. We were successfully able to get pre-k students added to Delegate Keam’s bill: HB 402. Thank you Senator Keam for making this important change. 

    The New School Safety Report, co-written by the NEA & AFT, and discussed during the Feb 13th Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education, a few recommendations include:

    1. Parents should be given advanced notice before a lock-down drill occurs.
    2. Drills must be age appropriate and should be coupled with trauma-informed instruction and mental health/counseling supports before and after such drills.

    These bills are both steps in the right direction. Let’s ensure that we are not doing more harm than good and protecting the emotional health and well-being of all our children.

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

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    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

  10. Foster Their Destination: Removing Barriers for Youth in Foster Care to Obtain A Driver’s License

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    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 drive themselves to school, work, and activities. 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.

    That was the case for former foster youth, Brittany Fuller. The day she turned age 18, she left her foster home.  Brittany moved in with her boyfriend’s family.   “I was a grownup, having to be driven to college and having to be driven to work by my boyfriend’s mom because I didn’t have a learner’s or a license,” she said. And though she felt like she was independent, “in a way I wasn’t because I had to depend on someone else to take me to the store.” Her sister then came to live with her, but again, no license or way to get to work because there is no public transportation in southwest Virginia.

    “It put a huge strain on me, you know, dealing with college and work,” said Brittany, “in addition to being a new mom.”

    The difficulty of her sister not having a license impacted her entire family. Brittany said when her sister would get off work at 1am, Brittany would have to drag her sleeping baby out of bed, often in the dead of winter, to go pick up her sister from her job. “No license made it really difficult on her as well,” said Brittany.

    Brittany Fuller, Former Foster Youth

     

    Brittany is not alone, nationally only 3% of youth received their driver’s licenses while in care and it is estimated that only 5% of youth in care in Virginia are getting their’s.

    What the General Assembly Is Doing About It

    In 2018, Virginia’s Commission on Youth conducted a study on barriers youth in foster care experience when trying to obtain a driver’s license.  The Commission identified several barriers including:

    • Getting permission and assistance from their foster families
    • Paying substantial insurance increases and fees
    • Gaining access to a suitable driving teacher and a car to practice
    • Understanding and complying with the licensing process

    In response, House Bill 1883 (Delegate Keam) was filed in the 2019 legislative session to prohibit insurance companies from refusing to insure people because of their status as foster parents.

    In addition, Delegate Peace (R) and Senator Favola (D) submitted a budget amendment to create a funding mechanism for the Virginia Department of Social Services to reimburse foster care providers for increases to their existing motor vehicle insurance premiums that occur because a youth in their care has been added to their insurance policy. The program may also reimburse foster care providers for additional coverage (i.e. an umbrella policy or the equivalent) that provides liability protection should a youth get into or cause a catastrophic accident. 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.

    We hope that these measures, if passed and included in the budget, will make it a easier and also a priority for youth in foster care to obtain a driver’s license so that experiences like Brittany’s no longer happen.