Governor Glenn Youngkin launched the Safe and Sound Task Force to create safe placements for children in foster care, and said that from February 1 through July 30, 2021, 163 children spent at least one night in unsuitable arrangements such as local social services departments, hotels and emergency rooms.
“It is unacceptable that last year over 150 children in foster care spent the night in places that just simply are not meant for kids. When this challenge came to our attention, my administration knew we had to act swiftly to ensure that every child has a safe place to belong,” Youngkin said in a Friday press release.
In 2018, a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study identified several problems in the foster care system, including a shortage of non-relative foster families and overworked social workers. That report led to a wave of foster-care-related legislation in 2019, including increased funding for the system and efforts aimed at recruiting and retaining foster care families, according to a 2019 Commission on Youth report. In January 2022, Voices for Virginia’s Children reported that efforts to place more children with relatives increased from five percent of total placements in 2016 to 18 percent in 2021.
Youngkin’s release said that the children who had an unsuitable arrangement were from seven to 17 years old, and social workers and law enforcement stayed overnight with displaced children.
“The Virginia Department of Social Services and the Virginia League of Social Services Executives raised this ongoing issue in July 2021, and since then Eric Reynolds, the Director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, and several state agencies have worked to identify some of the root causes,” Youngkin’s release states.
Secretary of Health and Human Resources John Littel said, “While there are a number of issues that created this untenable situation, it will require collaboration and creativity at both the local and state levels to solve it. We are grateful to every child welfare worker who has worked to the best of their ability to ensure these kids are safe and we look forward to working together with them to end this practice.”
Former Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia Janet Kelly will serve as the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues. Kelly is the founder of Virginia’s Kids Belong, which is focused on mobilizing both governmental and non-governmental organizations to give children loving homes. Youngkin’s release says she will do similar work to seek solutions to the crisis.
“The Task Force objectives include finding safe placements for kids who are currently displaced, ensuring a reservoir of safe placements for kids who may need them in the future, and eventually making recommendations that go upstream to address policy and systemic changes,” the release states.