ROANOKE, Va. – This story is part of a 10 News investigation. Foster Care: Kids in Crisis is looking into multiple issues the system is facing including why children are having to sleep in public buildings without showers and the dangers of what some call “hidden foster care”.
Kids across Virginia in foster care need homes. It’s a crisis that we’ve never seen before. Last month, 10 News discovered kids were sleeping in public buildings without showers because there was nowhere else for them to go. 10 News continues our investigation by going directly to the source to find out what needs to change to make sure all children in foster care have a place to go.
“I think what we’re seeing is truly, almost a fever pitch of need to a critical point,” said Christopher Campbell, with the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls.
He not only works to admit kids in foster care to their facility, but he also works to find placements for those they can’t accept. But some Virginia kids have been denied from 100 or more places across the country.
“I’ve never thought that kids are getting tougher. I think systems are getting tougher. I think the red tape is getting tougher. I think, not that we have an adversarial relationship with public versus private, but I think those barriers need to be broken down so that we’re better able to accept the children that they have,” said Campbell.
“We know who we can serve and who we cannot,” said Natalie Elliott Handy, the CEO of Intercept Health, says children may have a history of running away or hurting themselves but as long as they know ahead of time, they can put the right support in place but that could put their license in jeopardy.
“Safety has to come first,” said Handy. “The child may meet our criteria, but if we have two to three other high-end children that are in that milieu that is going to be a problem. If you get all of the children who have experienced high level of trauma and the behaviors that come with that. Put them all together. You have a ticking time bomb. To ask us to take a child back that we know we cannot serve violates our licensing standards, and so we can lose our license for taking back a child that’s not appropriate. Licensing respectfully doesn’t care that DSS doesn’t have a placement.”
She put out a survey to people serving children across Virginia. The top five issues providers cited all have to do with staffing, pay, or the child’s level of need.
Agencies report severe staffing concerns due to:
- Licensing regulations changing
- Background check delays
- Financial strains causing agencies to offer low pay because Medicaid-approved providers have not had a rate increase in more than 15 years
“Some of the solutions that Virginia needs to take a hard look at is around how much we compensate folks for this work. So for example, in some localities, we might be paying $500 For that bed for that child. But in others, we might be paying $1,200. There’s a huge discrepancy right there,” said Allison Gilbreath, who works with Voices for Virginia’s Children, shining a light on foster care issues.
“It is commonly known and common practice that other states are willing to pay far more for a placement than an in-state child. So an example would be a child with the exact same case file from Tennessee called a private facility in Virginia says they will pay $1,200 a day for that child, that facility takes them. A local Department of Social Services in Virginia called with an almost identical child but says we are only going to be able to afford $600 a day. They don’t take that child, they take the $1,200 child from Tennessee,” Gilbreath explained.
We checked the numbers and 123 children were placed out of state on April 1, according to VDSS.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It honestly just harms children in the long run. And it makes it more difficult for their families to maintain relationships with them and to be able to eventually reunify,” said Gilbreath, who thinks policy changes are needed. “I think Virginia needs to take a hard look at what it would look like to have a what’s called a ‘no reject no eject policy’ in Virginia, and what would that look like?”
“There’s a lot of untangling that needs to happen,” said Janet Kelly, Special Advisor to the Governor for Children’s Issues.
Kelly is spearheading the Safe and Sound task force and they’re working on finding all children a place to live, and then working on what needs to change in the long run. Social workers across the commonwealth are part of this process, noting what they want to see happen. But Kelly says she’s already seeing a shift.
“For the very first time, I’m having providers call and say I’m sorry that we have said we cannot take these kids and we’re going to try to change our culture so that we are never saying to you we’re not we’re going to have to remove this child from our facility. I don’t know that that’s ever happened before in Virginia,” said Kelly.
Campbell points out other issues, like having a contract with each of the 123 different departments of social services. Contracts that are all different and have to be managed, red tape that he says could be used elsewhere.
You can now file a complaint online about a child-serving agency, such as the local Department of Social Services, or a licensed child-placing agency with regard to children who have been abused or neglected, or who are receiving child protective services or in foster care. You can find contact information and the online complaint form on the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman website here. You can see the story and interview we did with the Director, Eric Reynolds, about the official launch of the office here.
Jenna Zibton has been reporting on foster care and adoption challenges and successes in Virginia for more than five years. 30 Days of Hope highlights the need every November. You can see those stories here.