RD297 - The Virginia Plan to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect – May 2021

Executive Summary:

The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), in partnership with numerous state agencies and organizations throughout the Commonwealth, presents the Virginia Plan to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect (Prevention Plan) in response to the 2020 Appropriations Act directive to create a comprehensive, coordinated plan to prevent child abuse and neglect. VDSS tracks data on child abuse and neglect in Virginia on an ongoing basis. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) Child Welfare Outcomes Report for Virginia(*1), in 2018, 26.3 per 1,000 children were part of an investigation for maltreatment and 3.3 per 1,000 children were found to have substantiated maltreatment. Of those maltreated, 3.3% experienced a recurrence of maltreatment within six months. Additionally, 1.6 per 1,000 children entered foster care in 2018 and the median length of stay was 13.1 months before those children were returned to their families, aged out of foster care, or were adopted. Data demonstrates child abuse and neglect is an urgent public health issue and underscores the need for a comprehensive plan to address primary prevention and decrease the incidence of maltreatment and the entrance of children into foster care. At the same time, VDSS recognizes that oftentimes state agencies and organizations unintentionally work in silos, prevention efforts across the spectrum are not well coordinated, and collaboration efforts are minimal. The General Assembly’s mandate to develop a prevention plan provided an opportunity for impactful collaboration, coordination, and mobilization of partners across the Commonwealth.

This plan represents a collaborative effort among 50 representatives from 29 different organizations. VDSS and their partners emphasized collaboration, shared accountability, and data-driven decision-making in the planning process and the plan was built using foundations from national prevention models and existing prevention plans in the Commonwealth. The Prevention Plan is intentionally written at a macro level to allow for needed flexibility during implementation at the local level.

The goal of the Prevention Plan is that “All families, youth and children in the Commonwealth are safe, healthy, and nurtured, and have equitable access to resources and opportunities to thrive in their communities." The plan includes five objectives and 14 strategies to accomplish this goal, all with the contextual and foundational themes of equity, trauma-informed and culturally specific services and the need to incorporate those with lived experience in practice and policy development. The plan includes the following recommendations:

1. The General Assembly should consider establishing a high-level oversight body, such as the Children’s Cabinet, who will be charged with the following actions essential for successful implementation of the Prevention Plan. (Legislative Action Required)

a. Fund key infrastructure positions such as Implementation Project Director, Community Coordinators, Data Analysts, Fiscal Analysts, etc., and establish permanent roles, positions and salaries for those with lived experience.

b. Oversee prioritization and coordination of efforts at the state and local level

i. Secure long-term commitments, cooperation, and leadership participation from numerous sectors needed for successful plan implementation including public health, education, justice, health care, social services, transportation, and business/labor.

ii. Recognizing that local practitioners and leaders are in the best position to assess the needs and strengths of their communities and work together to develop approaches that are best suited to their context.

c. Identify common goals to expand and integrate existing services and programs and develop agreed-upon definitions for key terms such as primary, secondary and tertiary prevention(*2).

d. Ensure fidelity to the foundational themes of the Prevention Plan (equity, trauma-informed, culturally specific and incorporating lived-experience).

2. The General Assembly should consider providing resources for implementation of the plan, including evidence based primary prevention programs and demonstration projects.(Legislative Action Required)

a. Invest in evidence based prevention programs, services, activities, and workforce needs in communities.

b. Invest in research and evaluation to support establishing evidenced based practices focused on primary prevention, such as the Center for Evidence Based Practices. Evidence based practices are a growing part of Virginia’s landscape in our child-serving agencies. There is a need for us to work in a coordinated manner, across agencies, to most effectively support these efforts, ensure program fidelity, and conduct necessary evaluations. To that end, several state agencies (DBHDS, OCS, DJJ, DMAS, VDSS, and VDH) have established the Center for Evidence Based Partnerships, a collaboration with institutions of higher education, to take on this important work. The initial partnership is with Virginia Commonwealth University.

c. Invest in demonstration projects, in partnership with federal initiatives(e.g. Social Security Act and the Food Nutrition Act) and priorities to implement and expand primary and secondary prevention services.

d. Expand home visiting programs as a refundable Medicaid service

e. Develop a pilot universal home visiting assessment model, such as Project Connects, for all new births.

f. Provide funding for the Department of Juvenile Justice delinquency prevention and youth development programs, as outlined in Virginia Code §§ 66-26 through 66-35, in order to implement local offices on youth to support local prevention programs. Youth development and delinquency prevention programs, of the Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development Act, have been part of Virginia’s Code for many years; however, have been unfunded. These programs are critical in helping to coordinate services for children and youth in localities to strengthen our prevention services continuum, particularly ensuring that there are services available to reduce youth delinquent behaviors.

g. Partner with the Center for Evidence Based Practices, a partnership between state agencies and higher education institutions in Virginia, to support the implementation and sustainability of primary and secondary evidence based practices.

3. The General Assembly should consider the following changes to address poverty and promote economic stability of families which have been shown to reduce child abuse and neglect.(Legislative Action Required)

a. Increase the minimum wage.

b. Increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to include a refundable state EITC

c. Increase the state child care tax credit and/or state funded child allowances to include refundable state child care tax credits.

d. Provide universal school meals, to include breakfast and lunch, for all children in grades K-12.

e. Pass legislation creating a living wage and report annually on workforce outcomes.

4. The General Assembly should consider revising state laws that lead to sustained systemic racism. (Legislative Action Required)

a. Modify the list of “barrier crimes" regarding employment and becoming foster parents or kinship caregivers to align more closely with federal requirements.

b. Address laws creating barriers to eligibility for public housing due to past criminal convictions.

5. Establish a data trust on child welfare outcomes using the Commonwealth’s existing infrastructure.

a. Monitor and track progress towards achievement of the Prevention Plan’s goals and objectives.

b. Partner with the Center for Evidence Based Practices to monitor the fidelity of evidence based programs towards achievement of the Prevention Plan’s goals and objectives.

The Commissioner of VDSS, in partnership with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), the Department of Health (VDH), the Department of Education (DOE), and the Family and Children’s Trust Fund(FACT), is pleased to present the following Virginia Plan to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect to the Governor, the Chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees, and the Commission on Youth.
(*1) National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. (2018). Child Welfare Outcomes Report. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/cm2018.pdf
(*2) Child abuse prevention efforts are generally recognized as a continuum: “primary prevention" is directed at the general population to prevent abuse before it occurs; “secondary prevention" is targeted in areas where there may be a high(er) risk of child abuse; and, “tertiary prevention" is targeted to individuals and families where abuse has already occurred. https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/overview/framework/