Inside Virginia's Foster System: The Structure and Roles of State and Local Agencies

Foster parent and toddler writing family on a chalk board

Overview of Virginia's Foster Care System

The Virginia foster care system provides 24/7 care for children and youths displaced from their family homes. Children in these programs are wards of the state until they are reunified with family or adopted.

Structure and Functioning of the System

State and local agencies make up the Virginia foster system structure. These agencies provide casework, treatment, and community services to children and youths who are or are at risk for abuse or neglect.

Foster families provide stable and loving housing for at-risk children and youths. The ultimate goal is reunification with the child's parent(s) or family members or adoption.

Role of State and Local Agencies

State foster care agencies in Virginia help prospective foster parents locate resources and support about becoming a foster parent. They can also connect you to local foster care agencies.

Local foster care agencies in Virginia are more directly involved with the foster system. They evaluate prospective foster parents, connect them with local at-risk children, and direct the placement process.

Policies Governing Foster Care in Virginia

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, Foster Care Independence Act, and the Family First Prevention Services Act are a few of the Federal laws governing foster care in the US.

There are also foster care laws specific to Virginia.

State Laws and Regulations

The Children's Services Act (CSA) is one of many foster care policies in Virginia. This law sets out guidelines for the structure of the state's system. It also defines funding sources.

Chapter 9 of Virginia's Social Services Programs Subtitle enforces general provisions around foster care. These provisions include placement rules and foster parent eligibility.

Various Senate and House Bills also set out requirements for the foster care system. Some of the latest foster care legislative bills in Virginia include SB 307, SB 396, HB 349, HB 716, and HB 652.

Impact of Policies on Foster Care

The primary goal of these policies is to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youths in the foster care system. Ideally, foster care is a temporary step toward family reunification.

Challenges in the Virginia Foster Care System

Virginia's foster care system faces many unique obstacles to achieving its goals. The good news is that concerned people and groups are finding ways to overcome them.

Common Issues and Barriers

One of the biggest challenges facing foster care in Virginia is a shortage of non-relative and relative foster families. A side effect of this issue is higher placement per-child costs. Moreover, a higher percentage of children are placed in group homes and residential treatment centers rather than with families.

Another issue is a lack of state-level policies and funding for placing children with qualified relatives. Only 6% of Virginia foster children are placed with relatives, far below the national average of 32%.

Most foster families in Virginia do their best to provide a loving, safe home that complies with Federal and state regulations. Unfortunately, caseworkers and foster homes that do not adhere to these requirements put around 4% of foster children's safety at risk.

Efforts to Overcome These Challenges

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) conducted a 2017 study on challenges facing Virginia's foster care system. The commission used many of the findings to create a list of recommendations for improvement.

Some of these recommendations include increasing funding and creating new policies for caseworkers to follow. JLARC also recommended that the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) improve its oversight of the system.

In 2019, the state started the Kin First Now initiative to improve foster care placements with relatives. As a result, kinship placements have more than doubled to 15% since JLARC's 2017 report.

Support and Resources for Foster Children and Families

A major complaint from new foster parents is the difficulty of finding support after placement. We want to make it easier, which is why we've compiled information about available foster care services in VA.

Support Services for Foster Families

Foster support services in Virginia provide foster parents with advice and assistance. FACES of Virginia and the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) are great places to start. New foster parents can get help from experienced foster caregivers through these resources.

We have also put together a handy guide to help prospective and current foster families. Find more Virginia foster care support here.

Educational and Healthcare Resources for Children

Foster My Future and Foster Club are some of the best foster care resources in Virginia. You'll find information on foster child Medicaid, support for foster children, and more.

The NFPA is also a great place to access foster care education and ongoing training. You'll need a membership to join the community. Or check with your state or local foster parent association to find out if they are already NFPA members.

You can also check out the FosterVA website. Our searchable foster parenting and adoption resources can provide you with answers you can't find online. Or get in touch with us to learn more about fostering in Virginia.

Advocacy and Future Directions

Becoming a foster care advocate can help you track emerging initiatives in Virginia. You can get your voice heard and have an impact on the foster system's future.

Advocacy Groups and Initiatives

SPEAKOUT is an advocacy group made up of current and former foster children and adults. It is part of the Virginia DSS Foster My Future initiative.

The Children's Home Society of Virginia (CHSVA) is a great place to find out about new foster care laws. You can also sign up for the CHSVA blog for opportunities to get involved.

Voices for Virginia's Children is a research and public policy group. The organization's website offers data about foster care and adoption. Voices for Virginia's Children also publishes recommended policy solutions to some of the major foster system challenges we discussed above.

Future Trends and Improvements

The Virginia foster care system has come a long way, but it still has miles to go. With the help of advocates and loving foster parents like you, the future of the foster system can be bright.

If you are searching for more foster care resources or are ready to start the journey to becoming a foster parent, FosterVA is here for you. Contact us to learn more about being or becoming a foster parent in Virginia.

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