Virginia Trails Nation in This Foster Care Issue

Only 7% of Virginia’s foster children are placed with relatives, according to a new study — well below the national average of 32%.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation tracked changes in foster care in each state from 2007 to 2017. For Virginia, the data snapshot contained some good news: There were fewer children in foster care, and fewer foster children were placed in group homes.

But many experts say that ideally, foster children should be placed with relatives — and on that measure, Virginia did not make any progress over the 10 years.

“We want for children to have a family that is their family forever — whether it’s their family of origin or if their foster family turns into an adoptive home,” said Allison Gilbreath, a policy analyst at Voices for Virginia’s Children, a nonprofit advocacy program.

Over the 10-year period, Virginia was successful in decreasing the percentage of foster children in group homes from 23% to 17%. That means more children have been fostered in family settings — but just not with their own relatives. The data also shows that older youth are more likely to be in group homes.

Virginia was also successful in reducing the number of children entering foster care. In 2007, there were 7,665, compared with 4,795 in 2017.

“While we have reduced the number of children overall in foster care, black children in particular continue to be overrepresented both in family-based settings, but also particularly in group homes,” Gilbreath said. “We really need to spend some time and energy in the state and figure out what we can do that will specifically get at the racial inequities in the foster care system.”

This year’s Virginia General Assembly passed SB 1339 to bring Virginia in compliance with federal foster care regulations, including the federal Family First Prevention Services Act enacted in 2018. The act encourages states to keep children in family-based settings by redirecting federal funds to support services for at-risk children and their …

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