The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) received a report on Virginia’s foster care system from its staff at its meeting on December 10. JLARC directed its staff to undertake the study in September 2017. Although Virginia places children in foster care at a lower rate than any other state, the report was critical of the performance of Virginia’s foster care system, both at the state and local level, for those children who are removed from their homes.
The report notes that the population of children in foster care in Virginia is changing, with a higher proportion of children being placed in care due to parental substance abuse, and a higher proportion of younger children being placed in care, including a 21 percent increase between 2013 and 2018 in the number of children younger than five in foster care. The report found that some local departments of social services struggle to comply with certain requirements, such as ensuring that children receive monthly visits from caseworkers and required health screenings and services. The report also found that both local departments and the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) could improve efforts to place children with relatives, to recruit non-relative foster parents, and to achieve permanency for children, whether by reuniting them with their birth parents or by terminating parental rights to allow for adoptions to proceed. High caseloads limit caseworkers’ ability to meet requirements for children in care as well as to recruit foster parents, and the report points out that recruitment and retention of caseworkers — major challenges in local departments – contribute to this issue.
The report makes 34 recommendations to improve aspects of the system, including local practices and state oversight. Several key recommendations include:
- Require VDSS to develop a statewide strategic plan for recruiting foster families.
- Require VDSS to review each case of a child who is placed in congregate care and require the local department to pay all costs associated with the placement if it is found that the placement is not justified by the child’s needs and the local department does not take reasonable steps to find a family-based placement.
- Require VDSS to review cases of children who have been in foster care for more than 36 months; require VDSS to report on lengths of stay in foster care by locality.
- Require VDSS to establish a caseload standard for foster care caseworkers, which would be periodically reviewed, and to notify local boards of social services when caseworkers carry caseloads in excess of these standards.
- Amend state statute to specify conditions under which VDSS should intervene in local departments to address problems with foster care services.
This issue is likely to be a topic of legislative interest during the upcoming General Assembly session. An emergency regulation clarifying the authority of the Commissioner of Social Services to step in when a local department is unable to provide public assistance and social services has been approved by the Governor (this authority exists in statute but no regulation had been promulgated). The state is also working to implement recent changes in federal law governing foster care funding, which will allow federal funding for foster care prevention services under certain circumstances, and will limit federal funding for certain congregate care placements; VACo is participating in this effort.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle