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May 4, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Now it’s Virginia’s turn to fail its abused and neglected kids in foster care (Virginia Mercury, 12/11/18).  It’s not a new article, but it reports on an old, old problem.

Back in December, the state legislature received a report done at the behest of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.  It was, according to two lawmakers, a “devastating report.”

It was also a report that could have been written about many, many of the states in this nation.  The problems in Virginia are the usual ones.
Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Duke Storen said he agreed with the auditor’s findings.
“We have got a lot of things already under way because we’ve recognized these problems,” he said. “The fact is, we’ve got a retention problem, we’ve got a recruitment problem and we’ve got a training problem.”
Stated another way, Virginia doesn’t pay children’s welfare caseworkers enough and it weighs them down with too-large caseloads.  That means they don’t remain employed by the state very long and the ones who do remain have to pick up even heavier caseloads.  That all results in children not receiving the attention from the state they need and deserve.  One senator put it well:
“This is an absolutely devastating report,” said state Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax. “These are children we’ve taken from their families. They’re now our children. We have to give them the very best we can and obviously that’s not happening.”
Indeed.  When the state takes kids from their parents, they become the state’s kids.  This is how it treats them:
Among other failures, the report found 19 percent of children in foster care did not receive all their required monthly visits from caseworkers between April 2017 and March 2018, and 24 children were not visited at all. Of children ages 5 and younger, 15 percent did not receive all their required monthly visits…
There is also evidence that many children aren’t receiving basic physical, dental and mental health care. Only 10 percent of a sample of 492 foster care children in 2017 had received the recommended immunizations and 45 percent had no medical record of immunizations at any time in their life.
A 2017 federal review found that local departments did not adequately assess the mental and behavioral health needs of nine out of 34 sample foster care cases — even though “a significant proportion of children in foster care in Virginia have clinical levels of mental or behavioral health needs,” according to the report.
And even though placing children with families is considered a widely-held best practice, local departments don’t do enough to place children in foster care with relatives. Only 6 percent of Virginia’s foster care children were placed with relatives in 2016, compared to 32 percent nationwide.
And of course there aren’t enough foster parents to care for all the kids taken by the state.  Or at least Virginia doesn’t think there are.  But whatever the case, the state has no intention of dealing with the shortage, if there is one.
The state has no plans to address the shortage of foster parents, which has persisted since at least 1998, Dickinson added. It doesn’t even have a basic list of all foster parents in Virginia.
That’s right, the shortage of foster parents has been a known problem for over two decades and Virginia isn’t even thinking about how to solve it.  Amazing.

Again, all that could be said about many states.  But there’s one thing that uniquely hamstrings Virginia’s ability to deal with its foster care crisis.
Overall, the report faulted limited oversight of a far-flung system of 120 local departments of social services, which are each independently responsible for the services they provide. The state, meanwhile, has limited power to intervene when things go wrong.  
It’s hard to imagine a state system that tasks 120 sub-agencies with providing services to kids but then refuses the state sufficient power over those sub-agencies to ensure each does its job well.  Needless to say, the quality of services provided to kids is uneven at best, varying from location to location.

It’s such a common story.  Reading about state after state that frankly fails its most vulnerable residents, it’s hard to conclude anything but that children simply aren’t as important as we claim.  Too few resources to do the job properly and too many incentives to take children from families and into the adoption pipeline mean damage to kids that’s well known and documented and yet it continues.

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