Tag Archive: youth advocacy

  1. Bill and Budget Explainer: School-based Mental Health Services


    Virginia is poised to make significant progress in children’s mental health during the 2023 legislative session. Virginia ranked as 48th in Youth Mental Health access according to Mental Health America and recommendations were identified by JLARC in their report Pandemic Impact on K-12 Public Education. School-based mental health services are an integral component to address the youth mental health crisis as schools are often where children and youth form positive and trusting relationships with adults and peers to address their needs. However, we have seen too many incidents where schools are not fully equipped to address mental health needs of students. We also must look to the future where federal ESSER funds that have boosted school-based mental health responses are scheduled to end.

    Actions taken by the General Assembly in recent years to improve the ratio of counselors to students, create school-based mental health integration programs, seek the reversal of the “free care rule” to bill Medicaid for school-based services, integrate mental health into Standards of Learning and regional Recovery High Schools have created the positive momentum for further action this year. In addition, we have seen the expansion of federal grants included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and recent guidance from the Centers on Medicaid and Medicare Administration to leverage Medicaid to pay for school-based services. Read more about Medicaid funding for school-based services here.

    Legislation Considered by Education Committees

    SB1043 (McPike) | HB2124 (Wilt) | HB2187 (Rasoul) – School mental health and counseling, definitions, licensure requirements – SUPPORT

    The Senate version of this legislation incorporates the two policy changes in the House bills to refine the roles of school counselors and to provide flexibility in staffing for school psychologists. To help improve coordination of services, the Senate version also includes a directive to the Department of Education (DOE) to work with Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to develop a model Memorandum of Understanding for school-based partnerships with community-based mental health providers.

    SB1300 (Deeds) – Elementary & secondary school teachers, public: requirements, trauma-informed care training – SUPPORT

    This Senate bill outlines a training program for classroom teachers to receive training every three years developed by the DBHDS related to recognizing and addressing childhood trauma. This bill was conceived by a youth advocate, Elijah Lee. A budget amendment in the Senate budget provides funds to DBHDS to develop the training.

    SB1325 (McClellan) – Standards of Quality Specialized Support Positions – SUPPORT

    While there is shared interest in building on the Standards of Quality in the General Assembly, SB1325 that has passed the Senate and is being considered in the House specifically addresses the specialized student support positions (school social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, licensed behavior analysts, licensed assistant behavior analysts, and other licensed health and behavioral positions) intended to address student mental health and behavior supports. The budget conference committee negotiators should include $57 million in additional resources to improve the ratio of specialized student support personnel.

    SB818 (Spruill) – Programs of instruction on mental health education – SUPPORT

    This legislation adds additional specificity to the 2018 legislation that added mental health to the physical and health education Standards of Learning. This legislation outlines more specific curriculum guidelines to improve technical guidance to school divisions for age-appropriate sequential instruction and for local school boards to develop and implement policies related to mental health instruction.

    Budget Amendments Considered by House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee

    Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services/Department of Education

    School Based Mental Health Integration Grants

    Last year, the General Assembly approved the first state-funded school-based mental health integration grants allowing DBHDS to offer grants to school divisions to expand school-based mental health services and community partnerships. Lawmakers should encourage DOE and DBHDS to collaborate on these efforts and should help define the roles for each agency. DOE should have oversight for school division implementation and DBHDS should provide expertise on  mental health services. In comparison, federal efforts for school-based mental health services are designed as a collaboration among Education and Health and Human Services. For example, both DBHDS and DOE have been awarded additional resources under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to implement school-based mental health services.

    • Recommendation: Establish grant funds at both DBHDS and DOE to leverage the expertise of DOE and DBHDS to expand school-based mental health partnerships. The General Assembly should create two grant funds this year of up to $15 million at both the DOE and DBHDS with specialized focus areas that utilize existing partnerships and centers of excellence. The focus of DBHDS should be on clinical expertise for developmental practice, screening and assessment tools, integration with community violence and substance abuse prevention services, and evidence-informed practices for mental-health treatment services in school-based settings. The focus of DOE should be on expanding the use of school-based mental health professionals, providing technical assistance for collaboration among school-based professionals (VPSMH), and integration with the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS).

    Department of Education

    Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS)

    The House and Senate budgets both include additional funding to expand the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support in conjunction with recommendations from the Behavioral Health Commission. Currently, 58 school divisions participate in VTSS and have reported declines in school discipline referrals and school suspension. The Senate budget includes $1.5 million and the House includes $500,000 to expand VTSS.

    School Safety and Security Funding

    The House and Senate budgets both include additional resources to improve school safety and security. However, in light of several incidents of violence on school campus, or within a school community, such as the incidents at Richneck Elementary, we recommend that the purpose of these funds be expanded to not only to make school environments secure, but to also help respond to schools and communities when violence occurs.

  2. Introducing the Members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA)

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    Voices for Virginia’s Children is proud to announce the inaugural members of Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA). Before starting my role here at Voices, I was a mental health clinician at ChildSavers, a non-profit in Richmond that provides children’s mental health services and child care resources. After years of working one-on-one with my clients, it was clear that even the best therapies I offered could not overcome the impact of the prolonged poverty, systemic racism, and ongoing community violence so many children and youth were experiencing in Richmond. I made the difficult decision to leave full-time clinical work and join the Voices’ team with the hopes that I could advocate for a better, more comprehensive mental health system for children.

    Part of my role is to empower young people with lived experience to share their stories for change using a healing-centered model. With VAYA, our goal is to further participants’ empathetic, inclusive perspectives of others through evidence-based, healing-centered curriculums that show the connections between culture, community, and social economics. We hope to strengthen the public speaking, advocacy, and leadership skills of each participant so they are empowered to use their individual and collective voice to make progress in areas where change is slow and unjust. Most importantly, we aim to equip these young leaders to meet the moment as society’s most marginalized communities continue to be underrepresented in decision making.

    We received over 60 applications for this inaugural cohort and spent a tremendous amount of time narrowing down the group to 12 individuals. Learn about VAYA and this year’s participants here.

  3. Recap: Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (August 2022)

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    This blog post was written by Voices intern Cat Atkinson.

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian artist, scholar, and activist.

    This year marked Virginia’s 3rd Racial Truth & Reconciliation Week (RTRW); a virtual week-long conference hosted by Voices for Virginia’s Children. This year’s RTRW took place August 22-27, 2022. The mission of RTRW is to empower the voices and experiences of marginalized communities in acknowledgment of truth to promote healing, reconciliation, and justice for children and families. This week promotes the reckoning of our past to reconcile our present and future. In this blog post, we’re taking a look back at this year’s themes and workshops.

    RTRW seeks to advance policies that dismantle systems that perpetuate racial trauma, oppression, and inequity by educating Virginians, encouraging advocacy and activism, promoting equity, inclusion, and justice, and uplifting the voices, truths, and experiences of communities of color.

    As we continue to navigate divisive political landscapes and strive to promote trauma-informed healing, compassion, and justice, we intentionally selected RTRW themes to reflect the intersections of current events, history, culture, time, and policy that we find ourselves in. RTRW 2022 highlighted the themes of “Good Troublemaking: Necessary Trouble to Enact Change”, “Voices of Virginia’s Future: Highlighting Young Advocates”, and “Activists and Organizational Change: Reckoning and Reconciling Our Truth”, centering the voices and stories of youth and community members as the experts on their lived experiences in these topics.

    “Our kids were born for this time.” – Ann Zweckbronner, Parenting an Activist

    Over the course of the week, we had 19 workshops, 31 presenters, and 586 registrants from 29 states and Canada! RTRW went international! We had attendees from state agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, students, youth, parents, and more. 95% of those polled were satisfied with the programs and 98% of those polled thought the content was relevant to their work. We have been celebrating the community that RTRW has created by continuing to engage with repeat attendees over the years.

    Graphic featuring the words Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 followed by four purple circles each containing text. The first says 19 workshops. The second says 2,171 registrations. The third says 31 presenters. and the last one says 586 registrants. Followed by a grey bar containing the racial truth and reconciliation logo at the bottom.A graphic that says Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 at the top followed by the words 29 u.s. states participated and Canada and an icon of the globe. At the bottom there is a grey bar with the RTR logo in the center.
    The workshops this year highlighted the importance of community partnership and the collective liberation of the communities we uplift through advocacy. We engaged in conversation about DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) within organizations and communities, we discussed the importance of understanding intersectionality, how to support and encourage social justice advocacy within youth and cause “good trouble” within our social system to bring about radical change. There was collective storytelling, intentional self-reflection, engagement with new lenses of focus, and a buzz of energy from attendees and organizers to take this work back to their own spaces. In one week, we got to see the power of community engagement in mobilization for radical change.

    Let us continue to work together:

    Upcoming Coalition & Committee Meetings:

    Learn More About Advocacy:

    • Legislative Advocacy Guide: This comprehensive guide describes advocacy through the Virginia legislative process and gives specific instructions on how to communicate with elected officials.
    • Watch livestream or view recordings of House and Senate committee meetings.
    • Who’s My Legislator? Click here, then type in your address to find your Virginia representatives.

    Support Voices’ Work:

    • Voices is able to convene events like RTRW that ignite change in pursuit of healing, reconciliation, and justice thanks to your generous contributions. Please consider giving a gift to support the dedicated work of Voices staff in putting together RTRW and other events focused on improving the lives of Virginia’s children.
    • Make your one-time or recurring gift online by clicking here.

    Racial Truth and Reconciliation News:

  4. 9-8-8 is Just One Step Towards a Comprehensive Crisis Services System

    This blog is the second post in a two-part series that takes a deeper look into Virginia’s efforts to integrate the 9-8-8 hotline with the behavioral health crisis services continuum. Read the first blog post in the series here.

    For years, communities have advocated for diverting mental and behavioral health calls away from law enforcement and for states to adopt a comprehensive crisis response system. Now, that dream is beginning to come to fruition. On July 16, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitioned to the three-digit number 9-8-8. While this transition was initiated by legislation at the federal level, states are responsible for the rollout and linkages to their crisis response systems when the caller’s needs cannot be resolved over the phone. Virginia has been working on a rollout behind the scenes to link the lifeline to crisis response services that are currently being designed and implemented by state agencies and stakeholders.

    The commonwealth’s plan for minimizing emergency room visits for mental health crises and providing an alternative to calling 9-1-1 is to link the crisis call centers with regionally focused resources by integrating mobile crisis response alongside the Marcus Alert protocols. However, at this moment, this is simply the goal and not the reality. The development and implementation of Virginia’s behavioral health crisis system has been a piecemeal approach, and is not yet fully prepared to deliver comprehensive, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive services to meet individuals’ mental health needs—specifically the needs of young people

    The Surgeon General sounded the alarm in December 2021 by issuing an advisory on the youth mental health crisis. Despite widespread awareness, young people’s mental and behavioral health needs are often an afterthought or part of “phase two” when developing programs and services. Current resources dedicated to young people’s behavioral health make up less than 10% of Virginia’s overall behavioral health agency budget. The lack of sufficient funding and resources further the disparities that historically marginalized communities face in accessing support and services.

    Due to the inconsistent mental health crisis services across regions, law enforcement is often the first point of “care” for mental health emergencies, especially for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ youth. While most calls to 9-8-8 can be resolved during the call, some crises will require an in-person response based on a four-level call matrix.

    four level call matrix

    This new entry point for mental health support is supposed to be an alternative to law enforcement response, but a new law allows 89 of Virginia’s 133 localities with 40,000 or less residents to opt out of two protocols under the Marcus Alert System. This means that for those living in one of the 89 localities that are not required to implement all Marcus Alert protocols, an attempt to get in-person crisis support may still result in law enforcement, with or without Crisis Intervention Training, responding to your call. The criminalization of youth crises often results in further traumatization. This experience can intensify their crisis, compromise their treatment, and make them and their families less willing to call for help if another crisis occurs. Far too often children and families are met with a response that is not suited to meet their immediate or long-term needs.

    At a time when young people need support the most—while their worlds have been turned upside down by COVID-19—we must ensure there are providers and services in place to provide access to timely, culturally responsive services, and address social determinants of health to support children and families’ overall wellbeing. This requires investments from lawmakers and interagency collaboration.

    For 9-8-8 to be truly transformative, investments are needed now.

    While all these recommendations are not immediate and some are considerations for future policy, Voices for Virginia’s Children suggests the following key recommendations:

    • Mobile Crisis services need to be fully funded across all regions, with an emphasis on providing services in underserved and rural communities. Voices also suggests separate mobile crisis protocols designed specifically for youth, as the intervention points at which young people receive support may include schools, parental consent, developmental appropriateness, or specifically trained professionals;
    • Mobile Crisis and Community Care teams should include a peer specialist, interpreter, community advocate, and child-serving mental health professional;
    • More small-scale children’s Crisis Stabilization Units should be placed in communities across the state;
    • Establish an infrastructure for language access and a culturally diverse and appropriate workforce;
    • Mandatory trainings should include equity-centered concepts, including implicit bias training, trauma-informed care, child and adolescent development, and training specific to special populations (i.e., LGBTQIA+ youth and youth with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities);
    • Stakeholders involved in implementation should include those most impacted, such as youth with lived experience and communities of color;
    • Ensure that crisis response protocols and services are equipped to support systems-involved youth and their family members. Protocols should be designed to avoid future involvement in the child welfare system or juvenile justice system.

    Voices will continue to advocate for increased access and improved coordination of quality mental health services for all children in Virginia, regardless of where they live or at what point they seek mental health services. The future wellbeing of our state depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.

    To learn more about Virginia’s plan for crisis system transformation, visit these resources: Virginia’s Crisis System Transformation and Marcus Alert and STEP-VA.

  5. Announcement: New Youth Development Program by Voices


    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.

  6. 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.
  7. Voices’ Youth Advocacy Day Recap


    (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.

  8. 2021 Legislative Session: Advocating for Kids in Child Welfare (Updated 2/26/2021)


    In the 2020 legislative session, a number of key advancements were made for children and families in foster care, however these investments were almost all put on hold due to the pandemic. The pandemic created more challenges in day-to-day activities for foster and kinship caregivers, as well as child welfare professionals. Many children entering the foster care system 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’s local department of social services has seen a decrease in reports of child abuse and neglect but expects a sharp increase as schools reopen. The child welfare system often feels immediate and long-term impacts from an economic downturn with more demands for services and increased parental stress.

    Our 2021 legislative priorities were developed in partnership with members on our Foster Care Policy Network (listed below) and individuals who have lived experience in Virginia’ foster care system. Our areas of priority this legislative session are:

    • Scale up evidence and community based services to achieve better outcomes for children and families, particular those vulnerable to entering the system.
    • Provide social supports to kinship caregivers
    • Help foster care youth have normal adolescent experiences

    View our full 2021 2021 Foster Care Unified Agenda

    Foster Care Equity Statement

    Voices for Virginia’s Children produced our first-ever equity impact statements for the 2021 legislative session. Here you will find data and talking points on the equity impact of the issues we are advocating on. View the full statement here.

    Bills We Support

    Please check this page regularly for frequent updates on bill status and new bills.

    • Supporting “Kin First” |HB1962 | Delegate Gooditis |  Requires local departments of social services and licensed child-placing agencies to involve in the development of a child’s foster care plan the child’s relatives and fictive kin who are interested in the child’s welfare. The bill requires that a child 12 years of age or older be involved in the development of his foster care plan; under current law, a child’s involvement is mandatory upon reaching 14 years of age. The bill contains other amendments to provisions governing foster care and termination of parental rights that encourage the placement of children with relatives and fictive kin.
      • Update: This bill has passed and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • State-Funded Kinship Guardianship Assistance program |SB1328| Senator 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. The bill sets forth eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements.

      • Update: This bill has passed, was included in the budget, and awaits the Governor’s signature! 
    • Court Appointed Special Advocates Sharing Information and Participating in Meetings |HB1866| Delegate Delaney |  Permits court-appointed special advocates to participate in and share information with family partnership meetings and in meetings of family assessment and planning teams, multidisciplinary child sexual abuse response teams, individualized education program teams, and multidisciplinary teams related to child abuse.
      • Update: This bill passed and awaits the Governor’s signature!
    • CSA Implementation and Monitoring | HB2212 | Delegate Plum | Requires the director of the Office of Children’s Services to provide for the effective implementation of the Children’s Services Act
      • Update: This bill passed and awaits the Governor’s signature! 

    Budget Items 

    The following are items included in the Final Proposed Budget that awaits the Governor’s signature: 

    • Funding Local Department of Social Service Positions for Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act | $16 mill over two years |- Appropriate federal funds for local staff and operations – Increases the appropriation for federal pass through funding for local departments of social services
    • Funding statewide Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) prevention services program |$14.2 mill | funds to scale up evidence based services for children and families to prevent entry into foster care
    • Implementing emergency approval process for kinship caregivers | $75,000 | – Funds an emergency approval process for kinship caregivers. Children in the foster care system often move from placement to placement and this process will help place children with eligible kin.
    • Casework Salary Increases | Restores $2.2 million | each year from the general fund and $2.2 million each year from nongeneral funds for local social services departments’ (LDSS) to increase minimum salary levels for LDSS family services by 20 percent, and to increase minimum salary levels for benefit program services, self sufficiency services and administrative positions by 15 percent that are currently below the new minimum threshold. These actions should assist in reducing the high turnover and vacancy rates in these LDSS positions.
    • 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. The recently passed federal Coronavirus Relief and Response Supplemental Appropriations  Act has extended the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood funding through September 2021
    • Diversion Program for Kinship Families | Adds language directing the Department of Social Services to create a diversion program supporting relative and fictive kin families who receive custody of a child from the court and report the steps to implement such program to the Commission on Youth by November 30, 2021.


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


    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. Recap: Uplifting Young Voices Foster & Kinship Care Youth Advocacy Day

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    On January 15th Voices hosted its first-ever foster & kinship care youth advocacy day with a youth cohort that was selected in September. In November, the cohort participated in an advocacy training to prepare for meetings with legislators.

    This day would not have been possible without our many partners and supports! Thank you to the  Annie E. Casey Foundation and CHAMPS Campaign for providing stipends for youth and believing in this event. Our partners Children’s Home Society, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Great Expectations, UMFS, Intercept Youth Services, and many others for recruiting youth, attending training’s, and leading groups on advocacy day.

    2020 Youth Cohort:

    Asia London
    Darwin M Lovos Vanegas
    Gabrielle Martin
    John Wash
    Joshua Hoskins
    Kayla Brockington
    Makalani Stewart
    MarQuetta Inabinet
    Megan Dunford
    Nahdiyah Muhammad
    Rosalind Mabry
    Sarah Wyatt
    Tia Smith
    Tiffany Haynes
    Whitney Brown

    The young people lifted up the 2020 Unified Foster Care Agenda. They specifically wanted to highlight the need for financial supports for kinship caregivers, the high turnover rate for child welfare workers, the need for youth to find permanent connections before they turn 18, and normalizing adolescent experiences for youth in care.

    Youth began the day with legislative visits. To view the full gallery click here.


    Darwin Vanegas starts the meeting with Delegate Leftwitch sharing the needs to focus on education attainment for youth in care.


    White Brown interviewing with VPM (Richmond NPR outlet).


    Youth meet with Delegate Delany to kick off the day.


    Tiffany Haynes, Nahdiyah Muhammad, and Gabrielle Martin
    meet with Delegate Reid who inspired the youth after sharing he was in foster care as a child.


    John Wash shakes hands with Delegate Carroll Foy.

    Foster Care Caucus Press Briefing

    Youth were invited to the foster care caucus press briefing led by Senator Monty Mason and Delegate Emily Brewer. Tori Maby, Makalani Steward, and Sophia Booker shared brief remarks at this portion of the day. You can watch the entire briefing here.

    Makalani Stewart  giving remarks


    Tori Mabry giving remarks

    Sophia Booker giving remarks.

    Youth Policy Roundtable at Governor’s Office with Virginia Fosters

    Virginia Fosters is a statewide initiative that empowers leaders across the Commonwealth to be the solution for children, families, and workers in Virginia’s child welfare system. They invited the cohort to the Governor’s office so they could share their thoughts with the Governors administration and key staff at the Virginia Department of Social Services.

    In the News:

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