New report is critical of Virginia social services

Audit commission studied local foster care system, state oversight

ROANOKE, Va. – A new report is highly critical of Virginia’s foster care system. A state audit commission spoke with state lawmakers Monday, telling them both the state and local departments need reform.

The report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission says sometimes children are put at risk because local caseworkers don’t follow requirements. It says children don’t always get required health screenings and caseworkers don’t always conduct monthly visits.

It says local departments aren’t placing children with relatives often enough, the state isn’t doing enough to increase the number of foster families and there’s too much reliance on group homes and residential treatment centers.

The commission also concluded that caseworkers are overworked, handling more than the widely accepted standard number of cases. It says that the state department isn’t effectively supervising the foster care system and isn’t fixing problems with poor performance.

Virginia Department of Social Services leaders say they share the concerns of a new report that is highly critical of the state department. They told 10 News Tuesday that the issues aren’t new and they’ve been working on fixing them.

Carl Ayers, the director of family services with the state department, said they’ve worked closely over the last year with the audit commission, and the department has already put new programs in place in the last two years -- which has been since the time frame the commission studied -- and is continuing to add to its policies and capabilities.

“While we support the review and the recommendations from it, it’s something that the system was already fully aware of and we’ve been actively working to address,” Ayers said.

Steven Martin, Director of Human/Social Services in the city of Roanoke, said the department is open to working on ways to improve.

A statement sent to 10 News said, in part, that the department, “looks forward to opportunities to collaborate with Virginia Department of Social Services in developing ways to improve safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children in the Foster Care System.”

About 5,300 Virginia children are in foster care, and total federal, state, and local spending on foster care and adoptions amounts to nearly $500 million annually, according to the audit commission.