RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Several pieces of legislation to improve Virginia's foster care system have been signed into law.
Governor Ralph Northam signed the bills Wednesday and helped kick off Virginia Fosters, a new campaign that aims to empower Virginians to be the solution for children, families and workers in the child welfare system.
“Every child in our Commonwealth deserves to grow up healthy, safe and in a loving family that supports them through school, a career an in following their dreams,” he said. “We have made tremendous strides in improving our foster care system with this legislation, but was also know that the challenges we have dod not come about overnight and cannot be solved in one General Assembly session or by government alone. Each one of us has a role to play in giving Virginia's most vulnerable children an opportunity to grow and thrive.”
The following bills were ceremonially signed:
Senate Bill 1339 which clarifies state and local authority for foster care services, placement, and removal decisions as well as improving review and oversight processes. It also creates a new state-level position to oversee foster care health and safety.
Senate Bill 1679 and House Bill 2014 align state law with the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, which provides prevention services for kids at risk of entering foster care and their families.
Senate Bill 1720 and House Bill 2758 require local departments of social services to take all reasonable steps in a placement decision to determine if the child has any relatives who may be eligible to become a kinship foster parents, notify those relatives, and explain to them the opportunities they may have to participate in the placement and care of the child.
Senate Bill 1139 and House Bill 1728 encourage post-adoption contact and communication with birth parents.
House Bill 2108 creates a dispute resolution process that gives a foster parent an ability to contest an alleged violation of regulations.
Senate Bill 1253 and House Bill 1730 requires local departments of social services to request the placement of a security freeze on the credit report or record of any child who has been in the foster care system for at least six months.
Virginia Fosters coordinates government, faith, nonprofit, business and creative communities leaders and engages Virginians from various walks of life at the grassroots level to address challenges inherent in the existing child welfare system.
It is based in part on a model program that ran in Virginia in 2013 and in Colorado beginning in 2005 that focused on recruiting adoptive families.
The programs were enhanced and accelerated in Oklahoma and Tennessee recently, which resulted in a significant increase in the number of foster families recruited to help children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the number of children in foster care across the country has continued to increase, from 396,000 in September 2012 to 443,000 in September 2016.
In Virginia, an average of almost 2,700 children enter the foster care system annually.
If there is no relative who can help the child, then a foster family can be used for temporary placement until the child can either be reunited with family or a more permanent solution is found.
Across the country, about 32 percent of children in foster care are in the care of relatives, but less than ten percent of foster children are placed in a relative's home in Virginia.
Children entering foster care frequently have experienced multiple problems in their home environments, including abuse or drug use. So have a safe, stable and supportive environment is critical to their health and well-being.
For more information on the program, click on the link in the Related Links box.