Opinion | Virginia can provide more hope for foster children – The Washington Post


Barbara A. Favola, a Democrat, represents Arlington in the Virginia state Senate.
In 2021, there were approximately 5,000 children in foster care across Virginia. Many of these children were in loving foster homes and learning to conquer the challenges of growing up. But it is worth noting that a striking 17 percent of these youths left the system without the advantage of a permanent relationship. In fact, Virginia is one of the three worst states in the country for children aging out of the foster care system without a permanent connection.
This can and must change.
One pathway for change is identifying and funding more opportunities to place youths with relatives or fictive kin — people with whom they have social, not familial, ties. This practice is referred to as kinship care. It enables a youth to transition from his or her home to a place of familiarity and connection, thereby reducing some of the trauma associated with out-of-home placements. In 2022, only about 10 percent of Virginia children entered kinship care, but the national average was more than 30 percent.
Experts tell us that permanent supportive relationships are key to an individual’s success. Research shows that kinship care improves the stability of a child’s foster placement and can reduce the behavioral challenges that a child often faces. It can also be critical to preserving familial and cultural connections, which are especially important for families from racial and ethnic minority groups.
Foster youths who are denied the safety net of a permanent connection are left to navigate the trials and tribulations of life on their own. The results of this reality are alarming and hurtful. Foster youths leaving the system are vulnerable to homelessness, substance abuse addictions, trafficking and unwanted pregnancies. Although Virginia has taken steps to support young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who exit the foster care system, these young people need a relationship with a caring adult who can always be there for them to fully succeed in life.
The federal Families First program provides states with money to implement strategies that support struggling families so children can remain in their homes. This is an important goal and one that Virginia is embracing. Yet the key prevention strategy that must be funded at the federal level is providing financial help to families that are raising their relative children. Right now, a child has to enter the foster care system first and then be placed with a relative before that relative family is eligible to receive federal foster care payments. I contend that this scenario causes unnecessary trauma for the child and, in some respects, discourages relative families from coming forward since the child’s immediate health and safety needs are being addressed.
If the children placed with relatives would otherwise be placed in the foster care system, there would not be an increase in the state’s demand for federal dollars. And more important, these dollars would be used to support an option that we know provides better outcomes for our children.
Because of the inability to quickly move the federal welfare system, Virginia has allocated some state dollars to support relative families caring for youths who would otherwise likely enter the foster care system, but the state support is very paltry and these families are struggling financially.
In the most recent General Assembly session, I offered legislation that provided state-funded increases in direct support to relative families and case management services for these families. But the proposal was referred to the House Appropriations Committee and laid on the table. In the veto session, we saw many instances where Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) disagreed with his Republican colleagues in the House. I am hoping this is one such issue and he will decide to lead on the issue of supporting relative families.
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