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How Virginia plans to help foster care: 'Our voices aren't really heard'

Williams: 'In the beginning, it was very hard, especially as a kid... I was in the foster care system at a time when nobody came to check on us.'
Alyssa Williams
Posted at 6:52 PM, May 24, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin marked National Foster Care Month Wednesday by signing a proclamation in honor of it and two pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly this session aimed to improve the foster care system and support teens who have aged out.

'[Foster care is] an issue in Virginia that we have been focused on since day one and we're starting to see real progress. But, it's never enough and it's never fast enough. And so, I'm excited about the progress that we're making," said Youngkin. "We have so many kids in Virginia that need support. We're constantly recruiting new families into the foster care and adoptive care system and we constantly need more folks to work in the system in order to support these kids that so, so deserve it."

Youngkin sign the legislation to a room full of advocates, foster care families, and those who were in the system themselves.

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Alyssa Williams, 18, said she was in the system twice -- once at a young age and then again when she was 15.

"In the beginning, it was very hard, especially as a kid. Our voices aren't really heard. I was in the foster care system at a time when nobody came to check on us. It was more checking in with the parents, more so than us," said Williams. "But as I grew up in close to the age of 15, I had two amazing foster families who I still keep in contact with still see on weekends and have influenced the woman that I am today."

Williams is now an incoming freshman to VCU, noting that roughly three-percent of foster children end up going to post-secondary education.

"I am an exception of the rule. Foster care worked for me, but we have to be honest and admit it does not work for all of our children," said Williams, who added the Virginia is among the worst in the U.S. when it comes to children aging out of the foster care system without finding a permanent home. "We need to be protected. We need to be safe. And not only for us, but for our parents. This has been happening for generations and the change will always be there. It will always keep continuing. And the moment we stop is the moment that we fail. So, we have to keep going. And we have to keep making these changes."

As to the bills signed Wednesday, Williams said HB 1403 is a "big step" as it requires post-secondary institutions to provide free housing during scheduled breaks to students who have aged out of the system.

"I know friends who had been on the street are homeless or bouncing around in hotels with whatever money they have left. And with this change, having university say, 'Hey, you have a home this summer, you have a home this spring break.' It just makes us feel like our schools not only are supporting us, but they know us," said Williams.

Alyssa Williams
Alyssa Williams

The other bill, HB 1744, standardizes home surveys -- where prospective foster or adoptive homes are inspected -- and allow the reports to be shared across foster agencies.

Amanda Bishop, who has fostered several children and adopted two girls, said she has only had one home survey to be certified with the agency she fosters for, but talked about the issue of cross agency surveys this past week.

"We discussed the need for respite foster parents and with me being with the private agency, sometimes it's difficult to kind of share foster parents who have open homes that are able to do respite with local agency like Hanover," said Bishop. "So, taking out the red tape, it may make it a little bit easier to be able to kind of share the foster parents and let them be able to serve where the need is no matter what."

Amanda Bishop
Amanda Bishop

Both bills were approved by the Senate and House unanimously.

As for future issues the Youngkin administration intends to address, Special Advisor for Children's Issues Janet Kelly, who chaired the governor's "Safe and Sound Task Force" said they want to get more foster and adoptive families and to get more kinship placements for kids (putting children with extended family members, rather than people they do not know).

"And then, getting kids out of facilities into families, whether that's foster kinship or adoptive that is going to be our focus."

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