2018 General Assembly Information
The 2018 Virginia General Assembly session went into overtime to hash out a compromise on the biennial budget, before coming to a close on June 7 when Gov. Ralph Northam signed the budget into law. The budget includes Medicaid expansion that will cover nearly 400,000 more uninsured Virginians. It also includes over $56 million over two years for Voices’ policy priorities. We thank legislators, advocates, and partners who championed children during the 2018 General Assembly session and budget negotiations!
Our 2018 legislative priorities: Voices 2018 Legislative Agenda
Detailed 2018 Legislative Priorities
Child Welfare & Foster Care
Improve and bring structure to Virginia’s kinship diversion program, which is designed to increase the use of kinship care and avoid unnecessary foster care custody by facilitating placements with relatives.
Voices will advocate for Virginia to adopt a kinship guardianship assistance program that will facilitate child placements with relatives and ensure permanency for children for whom adoption or being returned home are not appropriate permanency options. Kinship assistance includes support services that foster protective factors—such as parental resilience, parenting skills, and social connections—to ensure the safety of children. Relatives caring for children placed in kinship care currently have little or no access to the financial support and services that licensed relative foster parents receive. They often lack information about how to access services for the children. We will advocate for regulations to ensure the use of best practices for kinship diversion throughout the state.
Children’s Health & Mental Health
Continue implementation of STEP-VA, the plan for improving statewide community-based mental health services for all ages.
Voices and its partners will advocate for a budget package that includes significant funding to continue implementation of System Transformation Excellence and Performance (STEP-VA), the plan for improving statewide community mental health services. STEP-VA aims to ensure that every community has the capacity to provide integrated behavioral health and health services to people of all ages, regardless of insurance status. The General Assembly signaled its commitment to STEP-VA by partially funding same-day access to mental health services during the 2017 session.
Improve transport of children in mental health crisis by supporting a non-law-enforcement transportation model.
In Virginia, children experiencing a mental health crisis are often transported to a mental health facility by law enforcement under a temporary detention order (TDO). During their transport, these children are frequently handcuffed in the back of a police car. This criminalization of children’s crises often results in traumatization and stigmatization. A recent alternative transportation pilot project in Southwest Virginia demonstrated that adults in mental health crisis can be safely transported to the hospital without the use of law enforcement. The pilot produced positive patient outcomes and provided relief to law enforcement. Voices and its partners will advocate that the General Assembly fund two expanded pilot projects for non-law-enforcement transport of both children and adults during the upcoming biennium.
Early Childhood Care & Education
Collaborate on promoting the unified early childhood policy agenda.
Voices will collaborate with its early childhood network partners to support the unified early childhood policy agenda. The network supports better access to, and coordination of, health care and mental health services for children. It will advocate for the social-emotional needs of young children by supporting evidence-based training and interventions for parents, caregivers, and health care professionals. The network also champions incentives for quality improvement across early care settings. Voices and the network will continue to promote the implementation of fingerprint background checks for all licensed and regulated child care providers. Finally, we will support efforts to improve access to high-quality early care and education for children from low-income families.
Voices will advocate for the establishment of an inter-agency working group to evaluate the commonwealth’s policies and practices that address adverse childhood experiences and promote resiliency. Voices will also help advance innovative trauma-informed practices by advocating for local organizations to receive additional state-funded grants that promote trauma-informed care.
Bring more social workers, counselors, psychologists, and nurses into schools.
As the rate of children experiencing economic hardship increases, so too does the need for additional supports to ensure all students have what they need to achieve academic success. The Virginia Board of Education recommends establishing minimum staffing levels for essential support positions cap. Voices and our partner Alliance for Students ask the legislature to include these support staff positions in the school-funding formula.
Dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
The commonwealth ranks among the top five states in the nation for referring students to law enforcement for school discipline issues. During the 2015‒2016 school year, Virginia schools issued over 131,500 out-of-school suspensions to over 70,000 individual students, representing an increase in the overall suspension rate for the second year in a row. In addition, students of color and students with disabilities were disproportionately suspended. Therefore, Voices supports school suspension reform and alternative discipline interventions as ways to reduce suspension rates and improve student behavior.
Enhance services to substance-affected newborns and their mothers.
Over 1,500 newborns were referred to Child Protective Services for substance exposure in FY17, a 16 percent increase over FY16. Pregnant women and mothers facing addiction struggle to balance receiving appropriate recovery services while maintaining bonds with their families and attachment to their infants. Voices supports stronger systems of care to support pregnant and parenting women with substance abuse issues, including easier access to treatment and home-visiting services and the extension of health insurance for new mothers beyond 60 days postpartum. These topics require further exploration to ensure mothers receive treatment and children are safe and able to maintain strong bonds with their families.
Support efforts to protect TANF and SNAP.
Given that approximately 15 percent of Virginia’s children are living in poverty, we must ensure TANF and SNAP programs are accessible and provide the greatest benefit to eligible families. Any cuts to TANF payments or eligibility will threaten the well-being of many low-income children.