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State Advocacy

2019 Legislative Agenda

Voices’ 2019 legislative agenda is a reflection of a fruitful landscape to shape children’s policy in Virginia. The Children’s Cabinet, led by First Lady Pamela Northam, is shaping policy proposals to improve our early childhood systems and to enhance trauma-informed care. Our Medicaid and behavioral health agencies have new leadership staff with backgrounds in children’s health. Congress has reauthorized our child welfare funding to shift a focus toward prevention of child abuse and higher quality services for children in foster care. Our legislature and other stakeholders in the Northam Administration have crafted proposals to improve student mental health and safety which will be considered during the 2019 General Assembly Session.

Our 2019 legislative agenda includes many opportunities to champion better policies for children.

Children’s Mental Health

Improve access to mental health crisis services for children with developmental disabilities and co-occurring behavioral health support needs. Voices will advocate for state general fund dollars to expand community-based mobile crisis services and regional crisis stabilization units for dually-diagnosed children and adolescents. Developing a robust continuum of crisis services in partnership with community services boards reduces costly and potentially traumatic in-patient hospitalizations and out-of-home placements.

Support the integration of mental health services in primary care by establishing a pediatric mental health access program in Virginia. State support to scale up the Virginia Mental Health Access Project (VMAP) will improve primary care providers’ ability to address children’s mental health needs through additional training, improved care coordination, and mental health consultation services.

Improve access to health and mental health services by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care providers and licensed mental health professionals. Increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care physicians and mental health professionals is necessary to promote robust access to necessary health care and specialized behavioral health services.

Mental Health Support in Schools

Increase support personnel in schools, such as counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses, to help schools recognize and respond to trauma and implement trauma-informed interventions. These student support positions help to create a positive school climate, help implement PBIS, and provide referrals for treatment.

Provide training in trauma recognition and trauma-informed approaches to all school personnel. Require school resource officers and school security to have background training in trauma-informed care. Currently these positions do not have training requirements.

Support the creation of a student mental health commission to make recommendations for how to increase access to mental health services in schools, including partnerships with community-based services.

Early Childhood Education

Sustain funding for preschool expansion efforts for at-risk 4 year-olds. The state should offer incentives to local school divisions to sustain VPI+ classrooms, such as an enhanced state match for the program.

Help parents understand their role as a “buffer” — preventing exposure to, and mitigating the impact of, childhood trauma. Virginia should expand efforts to support parents, such as home visitation and other evidence-based parenting support initiatives.

Improve the quality of early education programs by investing in quality improvement strategies such as classroom observation and coaching.

Setting a vision for all children in Virginia to be ready for school and ready for life. Virginia is lacking a unified vision for the alignment and collaboration among early childhood programs and systems.

Find more detailed talking points on the Early Childhood Unified Agenda here.

Family Economic Stability

Use existing balances in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to increase monthly payment rates for participating families. Payment rates have not been adjusted for inflation. Additionally, an increase in the TANF payment rate would help support kinship caregivers who rely on “child-only” TANF as the only financial assistance they are eligible to receive to help cover the costs of raising kin.

A refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps to put money back in the pockets of working low-income families. Voices supports partners in the efforts to make Virginia’s portion of the EITC refundable so that low-income working Virginians have additional resources to meet their families’ needs.

Monitor the implementation of Medicaid Expansion in January 2019 to ensure previously uninsured parents receive health and mental health care.

Foster Care

Support the initial steps to implement the federal Family First Prevention Services Act. The federal Family First Prevention Services Act is the first transformation of the child welfare system in nearly 40 years. In order to begin implementing these changes, the commonwealth needs to invest in the infrastructure to scale up evidence-based services, and provide funding to help residential treatment centers to implement a higher standard of care.

Bring structure and additional supports to the kinship diversion program, an effort designed to avoid foster care by facilitating placements with relatives. To ensure the financial stability of relative caregivers, Virginia should increase monthly payments for child-only TANF, one of the only funding streams available for low-income kinship caregivers.

Ensure youth in out-of-home care experience childhood and adolescence in ways similar to their peers not in foster care. Support youth obtain a driver’s license by providing reimbursements foster parents, kinship caregivers, and youth in Fostering Futures for their car insurance premiums. In addition, protect children and youth in foster care by freezing their credit to ensure a pathway to financial assistance for post-secondary education, as well as employment that requires credit checks.

 For questions about our 2019 legislative agenda please reach out to Emily Griffey, policy director, at emily_at_vakids_dot_org. If you would like to download a copy of the Voices 2019 Legislative Agenda click here .