We are excited that the 2020 General Assembly session began earlier this week! Being just a few days in, here’s a look at what’s to come over the next 60 days. Last year was an incredible year with the legislation that passed and we are expecting another big year for foster care, adoption and aging out of foster care issues. Below are the issues that we are focusing our support on this year – we will keep you updated as each of these move through the legislative process.
Codifying Fostering Futures. Fostering Futures is a program that has been funded in the budget since 2016 and provides supports to youth who age out of foster care without a permanent family. With over 450 youth aging out of foster care each year in Virginia, this program is critical to ensure youth are able to become successful, independent adults. This year one of our priorities is to ensure this program gets put into the Code of Virginia to ensure the program will continue and continue to be funded each year.
Stabilizing the workforce. Virginia’s social services workforce has 40% turnover rate each year (60% in rural counties), which means Virginia is in crisis. This year we are focused on stabilizing the workforce to ensure there is a fully trained, experienced workforce handling some of the most sensitive issues facing children. We are thrilled the Governor included funding in his budget to increase salaries from around $30,000 and to update the 30 year old case management system. This will allow caseworkers to focus more on the children and families and less on the paperwork.
We are also asking for the General Assembly to include in the budget funding for an updated training academy. The current training model takes 2 years to complete and is outdated. With a training academy, workers can be fully trained before they start handling cases and receive higher level training. Because of the complex, sensitive nature of the work social services workers handle, updated training is critical to ensuring children in Virginia are safe.
Creating the Office of Children’s Ombudsman. We are advocating for the creation of an independent Office of Children’s Ombudsman. This office would provide independent oversight for complaints relating to social services provided throughout the state. Currently, when families or children have complaints about the services provided to them, there is no independent agency to investigate those allegations. Establishing this office will provide families a place to file their complaint, an independent agency to investigate the complaint and a mechanism for reporting back to the Governor, General Assembly and State Department of Social Services.
Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program. Another priority this year is to have the state establish a state funded guardianship assistance program. Although the national average for placement with kin and relatives for children facing foster care is 33%, Virginia only places children with kin and relatives at a rate of 6%. Many times relatives want to care for their kin but are unable to do so without the appropriate supports, which means the children end up in foster care. Research shows that children do better with family and have a higher likelihood of achieving permanency if placed with family. With a state funded kinship care program, Virginia can place children with family members more often and reduce the number of children in foster care.
We are in for an exciting year and will keep you updated on the progress of each of these priorities throughout the General Assembly session. Interested in joining our advocacy efforts? Contact Cassie Cunningham, Policy Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 353-0191 ext. 334.