New Report on Virginia Foster Care System Exposes Gaps

(Credit: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission analysis of federal AFCARS data, FFY07 to FFY16.)

Overworked foster care case managers in Virginia are leading to inadequate treatment of kids in the foster care system, a new report finds.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the study by the commonwealth’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission also found that the foster care programs in the state don’t do a very good job helping reunite foster children with their parents or placing them into permanent homes.

Statewide, the paper said, 15 percent of foster care caseworkers handle 31 percent of all cases. This high caseload means kids don’t always get regular physical or dental check-ups, they get fewer in-home visits and less contact with their birth families.

Turnover is a problem, too. Duke Storen, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, told the paper that local social services departments have “a retention problem, we’ve got a recruiting problem and we’ve got a training problem.”

Foster-care placements have skyrocketed due to parents’ drug abuse, the paper said. This is, sadly, not unique to Virginia. A report in the Washington Post last year found that the number of children in foster care in Maine has increased 45 percent over 5 years. Massachusetts has seen a 19 percent increase. North Dakota, 27 percent.

“It’s pretty much every state — except maybe four or five — that have seen an increase in the number of children in foster care,” John Sciamanna, vice president of public policy at the Child Welfare League of America, told the Post. “What you are seeing now is just a straining of the system.”

Massachusetts has hired 15 people, the Post said; Vermont has begun a car seat collection drive because there are so many new babies in the foster-care system, and Texas, the Post reported, passed a law allowing religious foster-care agencies to refuse to place children in homes with gay or transgender parents, “in part to encourage those organizations to remain involved in fostering.” (A study from the Center for American Progress and partners found that such “conscience clause” exemptions may actually backfire, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.)

In Virginia, the study made 34 recommendations for the state to improve its foster program. Among them:

  • Create a statewide list of all foster parents in the system, something that currently does not exist
  • Hire people at the state and regional level to recruit and retain foster parents
  • Give state employees the ability to intervene with local social services departments that aren’t delivering adequate services

“This is a totally devastating report,” State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said at the commission meeting presenting the study.

“These are children we have taken from their families,” she said. “They are now our children. We have to take care of them as best we can, and that’s obviously not happening.”

Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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Tags: social servicesyouth