SD9 - Review of Current Policies Governing Facilitation of Placement of Children in Kinship Care to Avoid Foster Care Placements in the Commonwealth and the Recommendations for Regulations Governing Kinship Care Placements (Chapter 530, 2014)

Executive Summary:
In the 2014 Legislative Session of the General Assembly, VDSS was directed to review its policies regarding kinship arrangements and report its recommendations and findings by January 1, 2016. As part of its charge, VDSS must develop recommendations regarding regulations governing kinship care, which will include recommendations related to: a description of the rights and responsibilities of local boards, birth parents, and kinship caregivers; a process for the facilitation of placement or transfer of custody; a model disclosure letter to be provided to the parents and potential kinship caregivers; a process for developing a safety or service plan for the family; a description of funding sources available to support safety or service plans; a process for gathering and reporting data regarding the well-being and permanency of children in kinship care; and a description of the training plan for local departments of social services (LDSS). VDSS will also review the fiscal impact of proposed regulations. To accomplish this task, VDSS established an Advisory Group in order to help identify, refine, and prioritize issues of the study. Members of the Advisory Group met to discuss the need to formulate clear and consistent guidance for LDSS with regard to foster care diversion practice, to articulate findings, and to provide recommendations.

Over the last several years, VDSS has strongly encouraged family participation in case planning and the involvement of extended family in the care and protection of children. VDSS recognizes and values the importance of developing best practice strategies to prevent or eliminate the need for foster care placement by engaging identified kin and/or fictive kin who can provide short term or long term care for children and youth to prevent abuse and neglect or entry into foster care. While LDSS have embraced the use of foster care diversion, practice varies widely from community to community. LDSS have different approaches to safety assessments of a kin caregiver’s home, the types and duration of services provided to the family, post-diversion supervision and case management, the transfer of legal custody, and other interventions . Furthermore, VDSS has become increasingly concerned about problematic practice and barriers to good practice in foster care diversion that have come to VDSS’ attention through constituent complaints, department reviews, and advocacy group communications. In response, VDSS seeks to develop clear and consistent best practice guidance to LDSS concerning diversion. Issues to be addressed include defining the role of LDSS, birth parents, and relatives in the development of meaningful permanency plans; appropriate assessment of kin caregivers; finding, preparing, and supporting kin caregivers; and helping families to assess their options and collaborate in the decision making process. Without a comprehensive approach to the enhancement of guidance and practice in this area, VDSS cannot adequately determine the impact on important goals and benchmarks relating to child safety, permanence, and well-being. Thus, VDSS has identified specific programmatic and practice recommendations that will seek to improve outcomes for children and kin caregivers involved with the child welfare system. Those recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1: VDSS should develop and implement a state supported kinship care program that would provide appropriate financial assistance, services, safeguards, and permanency planning for children and kin caregivers.

Recommendation 2: VDSS should exercise the option to implement the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (KGAP) as a permanency option for children in foster care who cannot be reunified with the family from which they were removed and when adoption has been ruled out.

Recommendation 3: VDSS supports the development of a Kinship Navigator program in Virginia, which will provide information, resource, and referral services to children and kin caregivers.