By Allison Gilbreath

Note: this was originally posted Voices for Virginia’s Children. Updated January 19, 2017.

In 2016, Voices successfully advocated for the inclusion of Fostering Futures in the budget. Fostering Futures supports youth who age out of Foster Care to age 21 by providing casework, housing, tuition assistance, among other things. We will monitor budget discussions to ensure the program receives continued funding.

Foster Care Advocacy Day was Wednesday, January 18th

We partnered with Children’s Home Society of Virginia and Better Housing Coalition to host a legislative information session. We thank Senator Favola, Delegate Lingamfelter, and Delegate McQuinn for offering remarks and speaking in support of Fostering Futures. Later in the day, we were recognized by Delegate McQuinn in the gallery of the capitol.

After securing more supports for youth aging out of foster care through the Fostering Futures program, we will work to support improvements and enhancements to the program including better data collection and automated health care insurance enrollment.

Bills We Are Supporting:

  • Kinship Guardianship Assistance program: SB 876 – Favola – The Kinship Guardianship Assistance programs builds on improving the Virginia Kinship program that we started working on last session. This program would facilitate child placements with relatives and ensure permanency for children for whom adoption or being returned home are not appropriate permanency options. The bill contains eligibility criteria for the program, payment allowances to kinship guardians, and requirements for kinship guardianship assistance agreements. KinGAP promotes a sense of belonging and helps children stay connected to their families and culture as well as prevents them from remaining in foster care. This bill passed out of committee unanimously and has been sent to Senate Finance where it will be debated further.
  • Survey for children aging out of foster care: HB 1451 Farrell –  Directs the Department of Social Services to, in coordination with the Commission on Youth, develop a process and standardized survey to gather feedback from children aging out of foster care. It is important for youths voice to be apart of decision making, and this bill would provide youth an opportunity to share their experiences in foster care with VDSS and local agencies. This bill was referred out of health, welfare, and institutions unanimously and is under consideration by the full House.
  • Mutual Family Assessment home study: HB 1795 Bell – Home studies are conducted on families who are prospective foster or adoptive placements and over the summer I served on an advisory committee with the Commission on Youth to study this process and address barriers for families. This bill is a result of that work group and would require that home studies conducted by local boards of social services to determine the appropriateness of an adoptive or foster placement comply with the Mutual Family Assessment home study template and any addenda  developed by the Department of Social Services (the Department). The will improve the process of adoptive and foster placements. This bill was referred out of health, welfare, and institutions unanimously and is under consideration by the full House.
  • Foster Youth; enrollment in the Commonwealth’s program of medical assistance:SB1461 McPike – The bill requires local departments to provide all individuals participating in the Fostering Futures program basic information about health care services provided under the state plan for medical assistance services and inform such individuals that they will be enrolled in the Commonwealth’s program of medical assistance unless they object. After speaking with the Patron, we anticipate a substitute to this bill that will make it apply to ALLyouth who exit foster care regardless of if they choose to enter the Fostering Futures Program. This bill was referred to the Senate committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.
  • Comprehensive community colleges; tuition grants: SB1032 – Favola  – Provides that certain Virginia students who were in foster care or in the custody of the Department of Social Services or considered a special needs adoption and are enrolled in a noncredit workforce credential training program in a comprehensive community college may qualify for a grant for the payment of tuition and fees. This bill is a part of the Governor’s package o expands the pool of recipients eligible for the Virginia Community College System’s Foster Care tuition grant program (See more). This bill was fast-tracked out of the Senate Education and Health committee and passed out of full Senate unanimously. This bill will be picked up after cross-over (February 7th) in the House.
  • Adoption assistance; children with special needs: HB2215 – Toscano – This bill modifies the exception to the eligibility requirement that efforts be made to place the child in an adoptive home without the provision of adoption assistance to include consideration of the child’s best interest due to factors such as the child’s development of significant emotional ties with his foster parents while in their care, provided that the foster parents wish to adopt the child. This bill was a recommendation out of the Commission on Youth, which was tasked with addressing barriers to adoption for children. This language change will make it easier for prospective parents to adopt children with special needs. This bill has been referred to House Health, Welfare, and Institutions.

Budget Amendments Related to Foster Care

The budget bill (HB1500) budget amendments were posted this Wednesday afternoon.

Item 284 #5h – Kinship Diversion Navigators

In 2010, the Commission on Youth completed a study, “Barriers to Kinship Care in Virginia.” The goal of this study was to assess barriers to kinship care placements in Virginia and develop recommendations to address policy, training, and funding challenges which may impede the utilization of kinship care. A recommendation was adopted requesting the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Servies to develop a plan for the creation of a Kinship Care Navigator. Legislation was passed in 2014 directing the Department of Social Services to review its policies regarding placement of children in kinship care and report its recommendations. The development of a Kinship Navigator Program was also included in this plan.