ROANOKE, Va. – Foster Care: Kids in Crisis is a 10 News investigation that examines several aspects of Virginia’s foster care system.
A crisis never seen in Virginia. Placing sleeping children in offices and hotel rooms because there is no other choice. In a 10 News investigation, we’re working for you to find out why this is happening and what can be done to fix the problem.
“While the children wait for us to find a placement, they stay in this room. And the couch is where we’ve put kids to sleep while we’re furiously trying to find the right home for them,” Bedford County director of social services Andy Crawford said as he walked us into the room. .
Crawford said he had never seen him so badly.
“It’s really stressful for everyone. Because if you’re a kid and you have to sleep at the Department of Social Services, then you know we have nowhere to go. So, when a child looks at you and says, “Have you found someone who will take me? It’s devastating,” Crawford said.
But it’s the reality for kids of all ages across Virginia.
Last year, from February to July, 163 young people were displaced for at least one night – spending time in offices, hotel rooms or emergency rooms while waiting for a permanent place to go.
The Virginia Department of Social Services began collecting data again earlier this year.
From January 1 to April 29, 22 children were displaced for a total of 103 nights. The longest period of time for a child was 21 days.
“The lack of awareness about this issue is surreal,” said Allison Gilbreath, director of policy and children’s programs for Voices for Virginia, which shines a light on what’s going on in the foster care system. “I would say that before in Virginia, we had never really seen situations where children couldn’t find some kind of placement. We had group homes or congregate care facilities that could accommodate them. And we even had Commonwealth Hospital, which is a children’s psychiatric hospital in Virginia, where real kids with extreme needs could at least go.
Handy is also part of the Safe and Sound working group. The group of more than 70 people strives to find homes for all children who are difficult to place in the short term. She also participated in Rapid Response Team calls.
“He’ll bite you, or pull your hair, or hit you. And so the DSS social workers have been living with him for months in their agency,” Handy said, speaking of one of the hardest-to-place children.
“There have been long-standing problems in the foster families. I think what everyone is seeing right now is that the pandemic, much like every other system, has exposed the cracks and then deepened those cracks,” Gilbreath said.
She says there are fewer foster families, an increase in the number of children in care and an increase in the number of children suffering from a mental health crisis.
“So all of these things are bubbling up at the same time, and we’re seeing this crisis right now,” Gilbreath said.
By July 1, the goal is to have every child placed somewhere. But once they’ve all found accommodation, the work can’t stop because more will come. That’s why they move on to phases two and three, to find solutions to the root cause of this problem.
“It will not be fixed overnight because it was not created overnight. These are systemic issues that have arisen at all levels and so I think this is going to require an investment from everyone,” Handy said.
Everyone points out that this is not a foster care crisis, but a mental health crisis. Beds that were used as temporary placements in hospitals or other institutions are now occupied by children in need of mental health care.
There have been two days recently where no children have been moved.
We spoke to over half a dozen people for this story. Here is some information about the task force, the rapid response team and the next steps.
Safe and Sound Task Force History
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin launched the Safe and Sound Task Force on April 1. Janet Kelly, the governor’s special adviser on children’s issues, leads the 70-person team.
“These cases are really complex. And so by creating this task force, I think Governor Youngkin has created a space where these cases can be analyzed in the right way and resolved in the right way and that has never happened before in Virginia,” said Kelly.
What is the Rapid Response Team?
A group of people who come together as needed to talk about a hard-to-place child. These may include state agencies, heads of state, the local department of social services, and private providers.
“A lot of people are at the table. It is a party. This is an achievement obtainable at the state level. All those bodies that need to be there and can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to important decisions around the table,” said Eric Reynolds, Director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. “We finally have these people at the state level around the table, breaking down some of these silos. Because it’s always been good, “he’s a DSS child”, or “he’s a school child” or “he’s a CSB child”. And you know, these are all our children, and we all touch them in some way. All of our agencies, all of our services touch these children in one way or another. So we all need to be around the table to think outside the box and that’s exactly what happened. »
“We spent 20 hours last week looking at every child we followed and their case and taking a child-centred approach. We had providers on the phone, the people who can treat children with significant mental health needs,” Kelly said. “In many cases, you can see quite quick and surprising results.”
What does the calendar look like in the future?
Have all children in a placement by July 1 and not sleep in offices, hotel rooms or emergency departments.
“We didn’t get here overnight. This high-acuity crisis didn’t happen overnight and the solutions certainly won’t come overnight,” Kelly said. “The second the child finds a bed, it’s not over. You have to keep working on this and keep working upwards for the children to find a true sense of permanence and belonging.
We asked Kelly if the governor is willing to put in place executive orders or invest money to do what is necessary to fix the problems and she replied, “The governor is committed to health reform. mind in Virginia. I think we’re still developing what that looks like specifically. He sees this as part of a bigger problem, and he and the secretary are committed to doing what it takes to reform the mental health system in Virginia.
From July to December 2022, the task force will move into phase two, where it will try to prevent children from getting to the point where they cannot be placed and must stay in offices or hotel rooms.
Then, in January 2023-2025, they will work to address systemic challenges which may include policy changes at the General Assembly level.
“The one thing that keeps coming up as a common thread and a constant need in Virginia is the need to better support kinship families. It’s the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, the coaches, the teachers who take care of children they may not have given birth to but have some kind of attachment to. Science, all the latest studies show that this is best and ideal for children,” Kelly said. “We need to do more to support these families if we want to ask them to care for a severely traumatized child. We must do better and support them in this request.
You can now file a complaint online with the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman about a child-serving agency, such as the local Department of Social Services, or a licensed child placement agency. regarding children who have been abused or neglected, or who are in child protective services or in foster care. Reynolds says within 24 hours you will receive an email or phone call asking for more information about your complaint.
You can find contact details and the online complaint form on the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman website here.
You can see the story and the interview we did with Reynolds earlier this month about the official desktop launch here.
Copyright 2022 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.