Foster care receives assistance

Published 10:57 am Thursday, April 4, 2019

Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed legislation that will bring much needed assistance to the foster care system in Virginia. He also helped kick off Virginia Fosters, a statewide campaign that empowers Virginians to be the solution for children, families and workers in the commonwealth’s child welfare system.

According to a press release from the Governor’s office, Northam said, “Every child in our commonwealth deserves to grow up healthy, safe, and in a loving family that supports them through school, a career and in following their dreams.”

Northam went on to say,“We have made tremendous strides in improving our foster care system with this legislation, but we also know that the challenges we have did not come about overnight and cannot be solved in one General Assembly Session or by government alone. Each one of us has a role to play in giving Virginia’s most vulnerable children an opportunity to grow and thrive.”

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The list of bills, their purpose and sponsors are:

Senate Bill 1339, sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves, makes clear state and local authority for foster care services, placement and removal decisions, improves the case review and oversight process, and creates a new state position to oversee foster care health and safety.

Senate Bill 1679, sponsored by Senator Monty Mason, and House Bill 2014, sponsored by Delegate Chris Peace, aligns the Code of Virginia with the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, which provides prevention services for kids at risk of entering foster care services and their families.

Senate Bill 1720, sponsored by Senator Monty Mason, and House Bill 2758, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, requires local departments of social services to take all reasonable steps in a foster care placement to determine whether a child has any relatives who may be eligible to become a kinship foster parent, provide notice to those relatives, and explain to them the opportunities they may have to participate in placement and care of the child.

Senate Bill 1139, sponsored by Senator Barbara Favola, and House Bill 1728, sponsored by Delegate David Reid, encourages post-adoption contact and communication with birth parents. Delegate Reid is a staunch supporter of improvement to the foster care system. As a child, Reid and his siblings grew up at United Methodist Family Services in Richmond.

House Bill 2108, sponsored by Delegate Richard Bell, establishes a dispute resolution process through which a foster parent may contest an alleged violation of regulations.

Senate Bill 1253, sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves, and House Bill 1730, sponsored by Delegate Emily Brewer, requires local departments of social services to request the placement of a security freeze on the credit report or record of any child who has been in foster care for at least six months.

In an effort to understand the number of foster care cases and the impact these bills might have on our local community’s programs, The Farmville Herald contacted the Departments of Social Services in Prince Edward and surrounding counties.

Roma Morris is the director of Social Services for Prince Edward County. The Herald had an opportunity to talk to Morris about the state of affairs of the fostering program in the county.

“We are fortunate right now in that we have five foster care cases in the county,” Morris said. “That is a low number, yes, but it can fluctuate quickly, especially when dealing with a case involving multiple siblings. Many times, we have seen our number change in relation to drug [arrests] cases in the county. Kids get caught up in those situations, unfortunately,” Morris said. According to Morris another major factor for placement is poverty. She also noted that 23 percent of the population in Prince Edward County lives in poverty.

Morris went on to say, “We try very hard to offer preventive services whenever we can. I think that is the goal of every agency, really. If by chance we cannot find a way to keep a child in the home, the first alternative placement we consider is with a relative. That might be hard, especially when dealing with more than one child; brothers and sisters, for instance, but more often than not the relatives are more than happy to find a way to make it work.”

Morris related a story of relatives with children of their own that took in a family of siblings. “It wasn’t easy, but in the long run it was so much better for the children to be placed there instead of in a home with people they didn’t know.

“The training to become a foster parent is much different today. It is much more intensive,” Morris pointed out. “The recently signed legislation we are talking about adds to that training.”

Stephanie Coleman works as the director as well as the Early Prevention contact for Buckingham County.

“Currently we have 10 children in foster care and two that are seeking post foster care services in the county,” Coleman said. “We try to place within the family; with relatives, if at all possible. Sometimes it just isn’t an option, but if it is, we will.” Coleman voiced many of the same policies within her own agency that are in effect in the surrounding counties.

“One of the things this legislation does is clearly promote the aspect of family engagement as an avenue of success of foster care cases,” she said. “ The importance of positive interaction between the biological family and the foster family cannot be emphasized enough, either.”

Cumberland county Social Services was unavailable for comment at the time this article was written.

For more information on foster care or how to become a foster parent contact your local Department of Social Services. In Buckingham call (434) 969-4246, in Cumberland call (804) 492-4915 and in Prince Edward (434) 392-3113.