ROANOKE, Va. – Foster Care: Kids in Crisis is a continuing 10 News investigation looking into several aspects of the Virginia foster care system. You can see those stories here.
Work to reshape the foster care system continues as Virginia faces the same struggle other states have: not enough foster homes for the children who need one.
10 News has been covering the foster care crisis for months. Our 10 News investigation “Foster Care: Kids in Crisis” continues with a look at why a big shift could be coming.
Getting foster kids out of group homes and facilities and into families.
That’s the new goal of the task force, which was formed to help the dozens of foster kids across Virginia who were in crisis, sleeping on office couches and hotel rooms.
“If a child spends one night in a facility, they have a 91% chance of aging out of foster care without a family,” said Janet Kelly, who leads the Safe and Sound Task Force as a special advisor to Gov. Glenn Youngkin. “The next steps are really defining how we reduce the length of stay for children in congregate care facilities. There are 147 children right now who have been in a congregate care facility for more than six months. I think that that is just as much of a tragedy as children sleeping in offices.”
Kelly believes facilities have a place, “but they are really meant to be an acute service, not something that children are at for months or years at a time.”
She said Virginia needs to prioritize family-based care, whether it’s a kinship family like an aunt or someone from church or a foster family that leads to adoption.
“Getting kids out of facilities and into families will be our number one priority moving forward,” said Kelly.
“Kids, especially kids who are in foster care, are often voiceless. They don’t have the same type of advocacy,” explained Dr. Alyssa Ward, who is also on the task force as the Behavioral Health Clinical Director of the Virginia Medicaid program. “It’s really opened people up to understanding this issue. I think that then once you understand the issue, there’s no way to look away.”
The task force is moving into the next phases of possible policy and legislation changes before the General Assembly meets again next year.
Kelly said one system change is clear: the need for more kinship families and better support for those who take children in like grandparents, extended family, and family friends.
The task force is also committed to making sure kinship families have more structure, with more support, even if they’re not licensed foster families.
“Oftentimes, when a kinship family gets a child, it’s a surprise. They didn’t have nine months to prepare. They may not have even had nine days to prepare,” said Kelly, who added that all Virginians need to support them. “Think dropping off a casserole, mowing their lawn, things like that, that are just really tangible ways to support kids whose families are taking care of them.”
“On the policy side, there are a lot of solutions that we can employ that will help the system. A lot of this, though, does not require legislation. It requires moving hearts and minds in the community for people to act.”
The task force is also talking about recruiting more people to be respite families who may only keep kids for a short period of time, like a weekend, to give foster families a break or support the family in a situation where there are a lot of high needs.
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.