Commission on Youth Begins Work for 2020

June 18, 2020

The Virginia Commission on Youth adopted its work plan for 2020 at its June 17 meeting, agreeing to examine the delivery of education in juvenile detention centers and the development of an additional legal arrangement to avert placement of children in foster care. The Commission will also be revising and updating its biennial publication, the Collection of Evidence-Based Practices for Children and Adolescents with Mental Health Treatment Needs, to include information on the complex trauma often suffered by children who enter the foster care system, as well as material on evidence-based treatments included in the clearinghouse established by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Commission members received several presentations on the juvenile justice system at the June 17 meeting, including an overview of the Department of Juvenile Justice’s work to develop alternatives to commitment to juvenile correctional centers for justice-involved youth. Department of Juvenile Justice Director Valerie Boykin pointed out that the population of juvenile offenders housed in correctional centers has dropped by 65 percent between January 2014 and January 2020 as the Department has worked to house offenders in alternative placements, as well as to establish evidence-based programs across the state. Marilyn Brown, Director of Chesterfield Juvenile Justice Services and President of the Virginia Juvenile Detention Association, briefed members on the state’s Juvenile Detention Centers, which serve youth awaiting court action, as well as youth serving sentences. Laurie Cooper of the Virginia Department of Education explained how state-operated educational programs function, such as programs offered in juvenile detention centers and state hospitals. Education can be a challenge to provide in juvenile detention centers, as youth arrive at these centers with varying educational backgrounds and their stays vary from 24 hours to several years; Ms. Cooper likened the instructional model to a “one-room schoolhouse.”

An advisory stakeholder workgroup began discussions of the other major study topic, development of a guardianship model, on June 15. Nannette Bowler, Deputy Commissioner for Human Services at the Department of Social Services, presented a proposed model for a court-ordered guardianship structure, which would allow a caregiver (often a grandparent or other relative) to make certain decisions on behalf of a child, such as school enrollment, without the formality of obtaining permanent custody of the child. Such a model has been successful in other states in situations where a parent needs time to recover from a substance use disorder, but may ultimately be able to reunite with the child. Virginia law provides for guardianship only in certain limited circumstances, such as the terminal illness of a parent. The advisory group discussed possible parameters for such a model in Virginia, including how guardians would receive services and other support.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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