foster care

Last year’s review of the state’s foster care network by the non-partisan Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) found that the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) is one of the worst systems in the country in some aspects. Unfortunately, the issues at hand were that basic safety requirements have not always been followed, case workers were carrying too burdensome of a load, children were not receiving required health screenings, and a minuscule amount of children in foster care were actually placed with relatives.

The 124-page report explained that solving the problems surrounding the care of Virginia’s foster children requires an expansion of state-level policies to provide more oversight.

One of the Republican-led bills to rectify the woeful conditions with the Commonwealth’s foster care network is now being pushed by State Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotslyvania).

S.B. 1339, which has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, would make “numerous changes” to the laws governing the provision of foster care services.

“A lot of us who work cases with regard to foster care in our districts know that something wasn’t working right,” said Reeves in a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The two-term Republican, who also chairs the newly-formed bipartisan Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, added that the General Assembly “need[s] to address the issues that are critical to the care, custody and control of our foster care children to have a direct impact on day one and to allow us some oversight.”

On Twitter, Senator Reeves said “SB 1339 makes vital changes to Virginia’s foster care laws and challenges the status quo to prioritize and protect the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children and offer support to those who want to love and protect them.”

The legislation allows the commissioner of Social Services to develop and implement a corrective action plan for foster care services of a local board – even allowing the commissioner to assume temporary control. This would occur if the board in question has either failed to provide proper foster care services, make placement and removal decisions in accordance with applicable laws or regulations, or has taken any action that poses a substantial risk to the health, safety, or well-being of any child under its supervision and control.

The commissioner would also be directed to establish a confidential hotline to receive reports and complaints from foster parents and others regarding violations of laws and regulations. As well, a “more reliable, structured, and comprehensive case review and quality improvement process” would be implemented to monitor and improve foster care services provided by local boards and the statewide social services division.

The department would also establish a caseload standard that limits the amount of foster care cases that may be assigned to each foster care caseworker, which will be reviewed annually on the basis of the time and work necessary to effectively manage each case.

Each local board will also seek out kinship care options to keep children out of foster care – if it is in the child’s best interests. Searches for relatives eligible to serve as a “kinship foster parent” shall be conducted at the time any child enters foster care, and every year until placement is determined, with a more stringent review of placement options for children that have been in the system for over 24 months.

Furthermore, a “foster care health and safety director position” would be created within VDSS to provide better oversight and maintain the standards necessary to promote the health, safety, and wellness of each child in Virginia’s foster care system.