The Virginia Commission on Youth held its final meeting for 2019 on December 4. In advance of the upcoming 2020 General Assembly session, Commission members reviewed a series of proposed legislative and budget recommendations developed as part of an extensive study on foster care conducted earlier in the year. Commissioners had solicited public comment on a list of recommendations released in draft form in September. (VACo reported on the study, which may be found at this link, in an earlier County Connections article). Among the issues identified in the study were the stresses in local departments of social services associated with high turnover among child welfare workers; the need to improve the kinship care system and the Fostering Futures program, which supports foster youth transitioning into adulthood; and the importance of reducing reliance on congregate care placements.
Recommendations adopted by the Commission include the following:
- Support an expansion of the Child Welfare Stipend Program with state dollars. This program, currently funded through federal Title IV-E dollars, supports social work students who commit to work at public agencies after graduation. In its current form, federal requirements stipulate that recipients must spend the majority of their time on IV-E-related work; these strictures limit the program’s applicability in smaller departments, where staff may also be performing other child welfare-related duties. A state-funded version of the program would be more flexible in supporting these types of work arrangements.
- Support increasing the minimum salary for child welfare workers and adjusting salaries for current workers.
- Support the continuation of federal funding for Virginia’s regional kinship navigator program and direct the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) to develop a statewide program to provide information and resources to children and their relative caregivers. Direct VDSS to develop an expedited approval process for prospective kinship caregivers.
- Direct the Commission on Youth to establish an advisory workgroup to examine the issues involved in establishing guardianship as a permanency option.
- Direct VDSS and the Office of Children’s Services to establish a grant program to assist local departments of social services with the recruitment and retention of foster families.
VACo submitted public comments in support of additional state resources to assist with the recruitment and retention of local child welfare workers and foster families, and suggested that the proposed expansion of the Child Welfare Stipend Program and the recommended grant program for foster family recruitment could be particularly helpful in this respect. A complete list of the adopted recommendations may be found at this link. Improvements to the child welfare system are expected to be a continued topic of discussion in the 2020 General Assembly session, as the state continues to work to implement the major changes to federal support contained in the Family First Prevention Services Act and respond to the recommendations of the December 2018 Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report on the foster care system.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle