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”.
Every industry is facing a staffing shortage. It’s hitting foster care especially hard, leaving big gaps in service and forcing kids to sleep in public offices because there’s nowhere else for them to go. But some agencies tell 10 News that there’s an easy fix that could make everyone’s job of hiring easier.
“I have employees that are waiting to get started and their background checks are still not back and it’s right now six weeks,” said Natalie Elliott Handy, the CEO of Intercept Health, one of the largest private mental health providers who’s only operating at 60% capacity right now because of staffing issues.
Intercept also takes in children in the foster care system with high needs, who can’t live with a family.
“The challenge becomes DSS has a need, we have children who need a safe place to live. I have staff and even foster parents potentially, to be able to provide services to be a part of the solution, and we can’t get checks back in time,” said Handy.
She said with the current delay in background checks and training, staff can’t start fast enough.
“That can take two to three months with the current process. That’s really where our children are feeling the effects of the system and its inefficiencies,” said Handy.
She’s begging for an online process so checks don’t have to be cut and they don’t have to wait on the postal service.
We asked Handy why Virginia is so far behind on this.
“Respectfully, I don’t know. I wish I did. It’s been a long-standing issue for many, many years. This is not new. And so we had hoped the previous administrations that it would be adjusted. And so another type of fingerprint check has been adjusted. And now we get those results back in two days,” said Handy.
We took their concerns to the VDSS Commissioner Dr. Danny Avula, who said they’re already working on a fix.
“We are we’re modernizing our system. We’ve actually gone and released the first phase of our licensing application so that now people can submit those online. So that will reduce some of the time. But there’s a number of other steps as we kind of process map what happens from the time of application to the time of return that we’re working through that should make that process easier,” said Avula.
Intercept Health put out a survey to agencies serving children across Virginia—like treatment facilities and group homes. The top five issues providers cited all have to do with staffing, pay or the child’s level of need.
Dr. Avula says the goal is to have the online system working and available to all providers by the end of the year. They’ll be able to do the paperwork, payments and track the progress—all online—hopefully meaning they can onboard staff faster.
VDSS sent the following statement:
The new Virginia Enterprise Licensing Application (VELA) system is replacing a manual paper process with an electronic process that allows child care providers to request central registry/background checks through a web-based portal. This new process will significantly decrease the time necessary to complete these requests. The new system also allows providers to make payments electronically and track the status of requests submitted through the portal. As we continue to pilot the new system and implement a phased rollout to providers, we will be fixing bugs and introducing incremental development and functionality. Our goal is to have the system fully functional and available to all providers by the end of 2022.VDSS
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.