Foster care bills breeze through first committee

Virginia Mercury

Several bills aimed at addressing deficiencies in Virginia’s foster care system highlighted in a report released in December, made their way easily through their first Senate committee Friday.

The most far-reaching is the omnibus bill carried by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, for which Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, is carrying the $3 million budget amendment.

It passed the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services committee, which Reeves chairs, swiftly and unanimously.

“To say Virginia’s system is broken is probably less accurate than to say it’s full of holes like Swiss cheese,” Janet Kelly, president of Virginia’s Kids Belong, told the committee as she spoke in favor of the bill. “It’s really great in some places, really bad in other places, and this bill will significantly help with those holes.”

The bill was referred to Senate Finance Committee.

The committee also unanimously sent two bills carried by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, to Senate Finance that are meant to align Virginia’s Department of Social Services with the Family First Prevention Services Act, which was signed into federal law last year.

The act adjusts funding streams so that the necessary services can get to families before something drastic happens, like kids needing to be separated from their parents. The idea is to focus on preventing child abuse and neglect rather than reacting to it.

Mason’s two bills will ensure that Virginia can take advantage of those new funding mechanisms.

“Heretofore you had to have a CPS [child protective services] report and then you can start in with treatments and work and the efforts that need to be made,” Mason told the committee. “But the social services professionals will tell you that almost every situation is known to them in advance. Now we can put money toward prevention.”