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Advocates Urge Kinship Care Before Foster Care

More than seven thousands kids in Virginia can’t be cared for by their parents, but there’s a big shortage of foster homes.

Experts are suggesting an easy solution to the problem -- one that other states have embraced. 

When parents die or lose custody of their kids, courts in Virginia usually turn to the foster care system – placing children with strangers. In most other states, judges check first with extended family – awarding custody to aunts or uncles, grandparents or cousins.  That’s the case for about a third of children nationwide, but in Virginia the number is just 6% -- the lowest of any state.  

At United Methodist Family Services in Richmond, Nancy Toscano wants to change that. “The best way to imagine the benefits is to think of yourself as a child," Tosacano says.  "They’re removed from their parents perhaps, either abuse, neglect - maybe it’s a death or imprisonment, or some really trying circumstance. When a child goes into kinship care, that trauma is diminished because they are going with somebody that they know.”

Unfortunately, courts may assume that a child’s relatives suffer from the same failures as their biological parents.  In fact, Toscano says, children placed with relatives are less likely to have behavioral problems and are more likely to be adopted.

The legislature seems to agree, having set aside $16 million over the next two years to help relatives care for children diverted from foster care.