The Virginia Commission on Youth recently received an extensive report from its staff on issues surrounding the state’s foster care system, a topic that is of major interest to state policymakers in the wake of a significant rewrite of federal support for foster care and a December 2018 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that made numerous recommendations for improvements. The full staff briefing is available at this link, and the list of draft recommendations is available at this link. Public comment is being accepted until 5 p.m. on November 22, 2019.
A major focus of the draft report is the stress placed on the local child welfare workforce and the resulting problems for local departments associated with high turnover rates and significant numbers of vacancies. As the report points out, in July 2019, 20 percent of child welfare Family Service Specialist positions were vacant, and 71 percent of local departments reported substantial or moderate difficulty in recruiting foster care caseworkers. The stresses can be particularly pronounced in small, rural departments; data provided by the Virginia Department of Social Services and cited in the report shows a 61.1 percent turnover rate in small, rural agencies between 2016 and 2017. The report notes several reasons for the high turnover rates, including local workers’ frustrations with the state’s IT systems, training that is time-consuming and viewed as not useful in the field, and reporting timelines that are not realistic. Compensation for child welfare workers was the top concern cited by attendees at a foster care seminar hosted by the Commission this spring.
The report also discusses several other elements of the foster care system that have been identified as areas for possible improvement through Commission staff’s research, including possible revisions to the Fostering Futures program; options to increase the use of kinship care, which often results in better outcomes for children; and ways to address an overreliance on therapeutic foster care or congregate care. In addition to the improved outcomes experienced by children in foster care who are placed with families rather than in congregate care arrangements, the federal government has created a disincentive for relying on congregate care placements through the recently-enacted Family First Prevention Services Act, which, when fully implemented in Virginia, will limit federal Title IV-E funding for congregate care placements, except for certain limited circumstances. The state is already taking steps to review existing congregate care placements and assist local departments with recruiting foster families, an effort expected to accelerate with the Virginia Fosters campaign, which is being undertaken in partnership with the nonprofit Virginia’s Kids Belong.
Several of the recommendations of interest to local governments include:
- Increasing the minimum salary for child welfare workers and providing a salary adjustment for current workers.
- Creating a state-funded child welfare stipend program for college students who pledge to work in local departments of social services. The current federal program, which is funded through Title IV-E, has been successful, but is somewhat limited in its usefulness for smaller departments due to the requirement that recipients spend the majority of their time on Title IV-E programs.
- Establishing a state grant program for local departments to assist with recruitment and retention of foster families.
Public comment is being accepted through close of business on November 22 in advance of the Commission’s December 4 meeting. Comments may be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by hand-delivery or mail to the Commission on Youth, 900 E. Main St, Floor 11, Richmond, VA 23219, or via fax to 804-371-0574.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle