By Margaret Nimmo Holland

Our LFSVA colleagues who work in foster care see first-hand the challenges faced by children and youth coming into care. Most Virginia legislators know very little about this system and what they can do to improve outcomes for these young people. Fortunately, though, that is changing!

A bipartisan group of legislators has been working to educate their peers about what children experience in foster care.  In 2019 Sen. Monty Mason (a Democrat from Williamsburg) and Del. Emily Brewer (a Republican from Suffolk) started the first-ever Foster Care Caucus at the Virginia General Assembly, bringing together nearly a dozen legislators from both sides of the aisle who care about this issue and want to push for change.

Social Worker Tori Mabry talks about overcoming the challenges of being raised by her sister in kinship care. She advocates for greater support for kinship caregivers, who keep children like her out of foster care. Del. Emily Brewer (R-Suffolk), a co-chair of the Foster Care Caucus, listens in the background.

Last week, CEO Ray Ratke and I attended a press conference at the General Assembly hosted by the Foster Care Caucus as part of “Uplifting Young Voices: Foster and Kinship Care Advocacy Day.” Members of the caucus discussed one of the highlights of Gov. Northam’s proposed budget: $163 million in investments in Virginia’s foster care system. It was inspiring to hear that new funding has been proposed to increase the salaries of caseworkers in the foster care system, where there is frequent turnover due to low pay and burnout. The proposed budget also includes payments to grandparents and other relatives who are caring for children through “kinship care,” outside of the formal foster care program, as well as funding for an array of preventative services for children and families.

The speakers who had the greatest impact were the young people who shared their own experiences in foster and kinship care, including being separated from siblings and being moved frequently to different homes. One young man shared that he had lived in nine different homes during his time in foster care.

Del. Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg) speaks at the Foster Care Caucus, while Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Woodbridge) and Del. John McGuire (R-Goochland) listen.

While the General Assembly is considering funding and laws that will improve foster care and hopefully make stories like his rarer, our own Jeanne Hollingshead, LFSVA’s Director of Foster Care and Adoption, is not waiting for the legislature to take action. She is leading a group of partners in the One Home Initiative to reduce the number of moves that youth in foster care experience. The goal of the initiative is to increase stability for kids by placing them initially in a foster home that is a good fit. This stability helps the foster parent and child form a solid relationship, which can be a foundation for greater success in school and in other aspects of life.

I was inspired by my visit to the General Assembly for several reasons. First, I feel hopeful that additional progress will be made this year because politicians from both sides of the aisle are working together to improve the foster care system. Second, I am always uplifted when I hear young people talk about the challenges of being in foster or kinship care that they have overcome and how they are trying to improve the lives of kids still in the system. Mostly though, I am inspired every day by the work of my LFSVA colleagues to create abundant lives for the people with whom we work, including youth in foster care.

If you’d like to learn more about the bills and budget items being considered this year to improve foster care, check out Voices for Virginia’s Children’s blog, which is updated weekly during the General Assembly session. 

To read more about the Foster Care Caucus’s press conference, see this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.