The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) is the state agency for child welfare services and the designated CBCAP State Lead Agency (SLA). VDSS works collaboratively with the Office of Children Services, Department of Medical Assistance Services, and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services in aligning services and practices with Virginia’s Behavioral Health Redesign to ensure that all families have access to high quality evidence-based and trauma-informed services.
During 2018-19, The VDSS Leadership, including the Family Services Director and CBCAP State Lead, participated in joint planning with Virginia’s Court Improvement Program (CIP). While the focus of these joint efforts is primarily dedicated to moving children through the foster care system to permanency more quickly, joint collaborative work has been focused on the continuum of child welfare services and to better partner to improve the outcomes for children and families involved jointly with child welfare and the courts. This includes preventing children from entering the foster care system by ensuring quality representation for the children and families, integrating trauma-informed care, quality court hearings, and expanding the Best Practice Courts teams throughout the state. Additionally, as related to the implementation of Family First, Virginia is examining all prevention activities, including those funded by the CBCAP, TANF, and Virginia’s Children’s Services Act (CSA).
Collaboration: The Prevention Advisory Committee
The Prevention Advisory Committee continues to convene to provide an ongoing opportunity for collaboration, feedback, and evaluation. The committee is comprised of state staff, community partners, and representatives from LDSS. The Prevention Advisory Committee seeks to meet quarterly to provide input to the Prevention Services Program on legislation, regulations, guidance, and practice. This input includes all prevention continuum areas and focuses on early prevention, foster care prevention, kinship diversion, trauma-informed practice, and Reasonable Candidacy for Foster Care. The committee served an integral role in the development of the newly revised Prevention Services guidance and will continue its focus on the following areas: integration of Family First Prevention Services Act implementation efforts; developing the capacity to capture and analyze the impact of prevention and kinship diversion efforts in our child welfare information system; exploring funding needs, including how to realign current prevention funding sources (e.g., Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF)) and identify additional funding sources; and establishing core competencies and identify additional training needs.
Moving forward, the Prevention Services program will play an integral role in targeting resources and services that prevent foster care placements and help children remain safely in their homes or with relatives when appropriate. This In-Home services work is achieved by engaging the family, family-driven decision-making, the family’s support system, and other service providers. VDSS acknowledges that children and families will benefit from LDSS receiving additional guidance, training, and resources to support quality and uniform practice in preventing foster care. In-Home services work with children at high, or very high risk requires a skill set that focuses on family engagement, identifying individualized needs, creating and monitoring service plans and progress with families, while continually assessing safety, risk, and enhancing protective factors. Attention to In-Home case practice at both the supervisor and worker levels is needed to create consistency in practice. The development of this framework is aligned with VDSS’s broader strategic efforts, which reflects the key priorities in child welfare such as the Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP), Child and Family Services Review (CFSR)/Program Improvement Plan (PIP), and the Family First.
The Prevention Services program will engage the prevention advisory committee and other LDSS groups through a continuous quality improvement (CQI) process to assess the implementation of Family First to ensure implementation meets the needs of our child welfare system. Through the CQI process, the Prevention Services program, through feedback with other LDSS groups, will make recommendations for continued phases of implementation, particularly for service provision of evidence-based services and additional supports within local communities through CBCAP funding.
Three Branch Model
In addition to establishing partnerships and collaborations and hosting stakeholder meetings, VDSS has also utilized a Three Branch model to support collaborative implementation efforts. This model is based on the National Governor’s Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, and Casey Family Programs’ Three Branch Institute, which began in 2009. Virginia has been a participant in three previous Three Branch Institutes, with significant success in improving the child welfare system. The Three Branch model is a collaborative team composed of representatives from state, legislative, and court leadership and several state- and community-based agencies that respond to the needs of children and families, redefining the responsibility of child welfare to all agencies that serve children and families. The Three Branch model serves as a successful leadership group to enact legislative, financial, and policy changes to improve the child welfare system.
VDSS’ goals for the Three Branch model include using data to improve decision-making and ensure services provided are informed by outcomes; promoting reliable, accurate, transparent, and timely two-way communication among stakeholders throughout the implementation of Family First; acknowledging that true transformation will take time, and implementation will continually be monitored and updated to meet emerging needs; and collaborating and partnering with systems across the state as the key to the successful implementation of Family First.
The Family First Prevention Services will allow VDSS to provide enhanced support to children and families and prevent foster care placements by providing mental health treatment services and substance abuse prevention and treatment services; in-home, skill-based parenting programs; and Kinship Navigator services.
Virginia has a current implementation date of January 2021 for Family First. It is actively assessing this date’s feasibility due to the impact of COVID-19 and the removal of dedicated funding from the amended state budget. They anticipate that a final recommendation will be made by our Secretary of Health and Human Resources regarding an extended implementation date of July 2021.
Nevertheless, VDSS continues to assess the services that are approved for title IV-E funding on the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse and the identified needs in Virginia (e.g., home visiting and substance use disorder services).
Virginia’s state planning efforts will continue to ensure alignment between those programs funded through CBCAP efforts and the overall movement in Virginia toward evidence-based practice and programming.