Governor Glenn Youngkin has launched an initiative to create safe homes for foster children.
The Safe and Sound Task Force will bring together government agencies, the Virginia League of Social Services Executives, and other community partners to end the practice of children sleeping in local social service departments, hotels, and emergency rooms .
“It is unacceptable that over the past year more than 150 children in foster care have spent the night in places that are simply not intended for children. When this challenge came to our attention, my administration knew that we had to move quickly to ensure every child has a safe place to belong,” Youngkin said. “Beyond the immediate need, we hope Virginians from all walks of life will step up to help foster children.”
Over a six-month period in 2021 (February 1-July 30, 2021), 163 children were displaced for at least one night in unsuitable sleeping conditions. This phenomenon occurs due to a severe shortage of foster homes, foster care, and beds in group homes and residential treatment centers.
These young people were between 7 and 17 years old. Social workers or law enforcement spend the night with displaced children, creating an excessive burden on already overstretched staff. This greatly exacerbates existing labor shortages in the child protection and criminal justice systems.
Janet Kelly will act as a special adviser on children’s issues and will convene state and local government agencies, residential facilities and hospitals, and community partners to collaboratively seek immediate solutions to this crisis. The objectives of the task force include finding safe placements for currently displaced children, securing a pool of safe placements for children who may need them in the future, and possibly making recommendations that go upstream to address political and systemic changes.
The Virginia Department of Social Services and the Virginia League of Social Services Executives raised this persistent issue in July 2021, and since then Eric Reynolds, the director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, and several state agencies have worked to identify some of the root causes.
“While there are a number of issues that have created this untenable situation, it will take collaboration and creativity at the local and state levels to resolve. We are grateful to all of the child protection workers who have worked to the best of their abilities to keep these children safe and we look forward to working with them to end this practice,” the secretary told Health and Human Resources, John Littel. “I appreciate Governor Youngkin’s prompt response to this information and for providing the leadership necessary to end this practice.”
“The current situation involves children in foster care who are often inappropriately placed in emergency departments and other unlicensed facilities without mental health treatment or skilled professional support,” said Andrew Crawford, President and director of the Virginia League of Social Services Executives at Bedford. County Department of Social Services. “The Virginia League of Social Services Executives is committed to addressing the ongoing crisis associated with the placement of foster children with behavioral and mental needs. Local departments of social services look forward to working with the governor, our state partners, and our private sector professionals to find solutions for Virginia’s most vulnerable children.