Youngkin’s task force to support foster children nears one year mark

The Safe and Sound Task force started April 1, 2022
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s been nearly one year since Governor Glenn Youngkin announced a small task force with a big goal: making sure foster children have a suitable place to lay their heads at night.

It’s a problem many Virginians may not have known existed.

“The last year of the Northam administration, there were over 300 children who slept in an office, ER or hotel,” Safe and Sound Task Force Leader Janet Kelly said.

April 1 of 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin launched the Safe and Sound task force, tapping Kelly to lead, with the goal of ending that practice for good within 90 days.

“We didn’t get to 100%, but we got a 90% decrease in the number of children sleeping in offices,” Kelly said.

Allison Gilbreath works for a nonprofit called Voices for Virginia’s Children, a child policy and advocacy organization. She said that 90% decrease means there are still around four to five kids per month sleeping in offices or hotels. Getting that down to zero involves two main tactics.

The first is being reactive.

“Anytime a child is about to sleep in an office, there’s a phone call, a quick turnaround of folks coming together in a room. How do we figure this out? Who do we need to call to bring together?” Gilbreath said.

The other tactic is bring proactive.

“Building out the kinship care system in Virginia. Looking at congregate care settings and how do we ensure that there are some children who are in group homes and congregate care, who simply should not be there,” Gilbreath said.

That is only part of the problem. According to the Virginia Department of Social Services there are nearly 5000 children in the foster care system across the state. Roanoke City has the largest percentage of kids of any locality, carrying 5% of the state total, nearly 250 children in the foster system. To address the number of children in the system, the VA Department of Social services is making things easier for potential foster parents.

“Families are now able to go online and put in their information. Whereas before they had to reach out directly to a local department, now there is a database they can go into and start the process of becoming a foster parent,” said Rebecca Morgan with the Middlesex Department of Social Service.

Last year, Governor Youngkin signed a bill making it easier for family members to adopt relatives, requiring local social service agencies to provide relatives with an application to foster within 15 days.

“The governor’s office has really stepped up in making this issue a priority, but we have to continue to push forward and further and that means members of the General Assembly stepping up and making those investments,” Gilbreath said.

Those investments also include increasing the pay for social workers, which is in the Governor’s budget. The General Assembly failed to reach an agreement on a budget in its session but could reach a deal before its veto session April 12.