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State Commission on Youth considering recommending changes to foster care system

The Virginia Commission on Youth is considering recommending changes to the state’s foster care system. Some of their suggestions include more support for social service workers, as well as educational resources to help more foster care youth graduate from 4-year-institutions.

Virginia currently pays tuition, up to $5,000 per year, for foster youth, and former foster youth, to attend community college. There are other support systems and resources for foster care youth at community colleges across the state.

“What we don’t do great in Virginia is moving those two-year degrees into four-year degrees,” said Amy Atkinson, executive director of the Virginia Commission on Youth, a legislative commission of the Virginia General Assembly. She said nationally, about 3-4 percent of foster care kids obtain a four-year degree. Helping more Virginia foster youth get a bachelor’s degree is one of the recommendations from a new study by the commission.

Another is better workforce development for social service departments, to better train those who manage cases for children in foster care. Turnover is high, especially among workers in their first year. The commission is considering whether to create an academy to train these workers to be better prepared, to help them stay in their jobs.

The commission is also considering whether to recommend increasing the age when a child can have a say in whether they’re admitted to a mental health facility for inpatient treatment. Virginia law allows parents to make that decision for their children, if they’re 13 and under.

This is generally used when a child is experiencing a mental health emergency, or for substance use disorder treatment. A doctor must also sign off. The commission is considering increasing the age to 16 and older. Many states have a similar policy and put the age at 16. Others only give the right to parents.

The Virginia Commission on Youth is accepting public comments on the recommendations until November 13th, and will vote November 20th. Comments can be emailed to aatkinson@vcoy.virginia.gov.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.