Kin First bill boosts
foster care system
This year’s General Assembly session achieved much to benefit Virginia’s foster care system, specifically kinship foster care. The Kin First bill has been signed by Gov. Ralph Northam and will take effect July 1. Per this law, relatives and active kin (people who have a close relationship with a child) are to be involved in case planning and engaged as placement options for children in foster care. This is a step toward providing normalcy for such children in — and could mitigate some of the trauma involved in — entering foster care, as children can be placed with people who are familiar to them instead of with strangers.
The state-funded KinGAP program is another move in the right direction approved in this year’s legislative session that will serve relatives who are caring for a child through foster care, but it only is approved for the next year. This policy is sure to aid children in achieving permanency, the ultimate goal for any child in foster care, because it has less stringent requirements regarding which children and caregivers can access the financial assistance the program offers compared to the federally funded KinGAP.
These policies only can do so much, especially since the Kin First law merely codifies an idea that will require further guidance and state funds. KinGAP only is guaranteed for one year. Lawmakers should prioritize other areas that positively impact the use of kinship foster care, such as Virginia’s extensive list of barrier crimes, in order to allow for a true kin-first culture to be accessible within the child welfare system. Children belong with their families, and while most of Virginia’s front-line child welfare workers hold this belief, the laws make it difficult to uphold in practice.