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With nowhere else to go, some Virginia foster children have been sleeping in government offices

Currently, the state’s only publicly run psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents is...
Currently, the state’s only publicly run psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents is operating at greatly reduced capacity due to staffing concerns and continued demand for beds.(Monkey Business Images | Storyblocks)
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 12:46 PM EDT
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Over a six-month period last year, 163 children in Virginia spent at least one night in hotels, emergency rooms or local government offices due to a shortage of foster homes and other permanent housing, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Friday.

In response, Youngkin’s administration is launching a task force charged with bringing government partners together to find safe placements for unhoused children, develop a bigger reservoir of housing options and explore potential policy options.

“It is unacceptable that last year over 150 children in foster care spent the night in places that just simply are not meant for kids,” Youngkin said in a news release. “When this challenge came to our attention, my administration knew we had to act swiftly to ensure that every child has a safe place to belong.”

The Virginia Department of Social Services did not immediately respond to questions related to the announcement. But local agencies have faced a shortage of available foster homes for months. Last year, one of the state’s largest foster placement organizations told the Mercury it had seen a substantial decline in parental inquiries, raising concerns over its ability to make new placements. And Virginia is ranked at the bottom of the nation when it comes to kinship care, the practice of placing children with extended family rather than unrelated foster parents.

When local agencies can’t locate permanent placements — which can also include group homes and residential treatment centers — children end up sleeping in temporary spaces, including the offices of local departments of social services, according to the release. A shortage of mental health treatment beds, particularly for children, also plays a role.

Currently, the state’s only publicly run psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents is operating at greatly reduced capacity due to staffing concerns and continued demand for beds. Often, children end up sleeping in emergency rooms due to the lack of treatment options. In March, a local social services agency sued the state over the issue, alleging that a foster child in its care was forced to spend four days in a Richmond emergency room without ever receiving adequate mental health care.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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