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Last month, SCAN hosted its 5th Annual Speak Up for Children Advocacy Training, bringing together more than 40 attendees for a day of public policy education and advocacy training. Partners from Prevent Child Abuse Virginia and Voices for Virginia’s Children along with a diverse group of child welfare experts and elected officials led discussions during the day-long, interactive workshop. The group discussed effective advocacy tactics at all levels; critical legislative updates; and policy priorities for the upcoming 2017 Virginia General Assembly session. The training was sponsored in part by Verizon, and volunteers from Boeing also supported promotion, planning and facilitation of the event.

Wondering what Advocacy Day attendees are going to do next? Here are some of the action items they plan to take in th ecoming months, and you can do them too:

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  1. Attend an Advocacy Day in Richmond during the upcoming 2017 short session of the Virginia General Assembly.
  2. Work towards having Erin’s Law passed in Virginia. Read an article on Erin’s Law, including comment from Advocacy Day guest Senator Jennifer Wexton, here.
  3. Share advocacy information with others in your network. Voices for Virginia’s Children has some excellent 2017 Tools for Advocates available here.
  4. Call, write and visit your legislators. Find out who your local legislators are here.
  5. Support the families you serve in our programs. One way to support them is by finding creative ways to share their stories with your legislators!
  6. Work with other organizations, across issues, to encourage more progress. Legislators told us again and again that the more cooperation and work they see behind an issue, the easier it is for them to bring attention to it! You can learn more about SCAN’s policy focus in the comine year here, and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia shares specific Bills they are following (along with many other useful advocacy tools!) here.
  7. Thank your political representative for working on behalf of children. (See number 4 above.)

You can download an overview of Advocacy Day here, or visit SCAN’s Advocacy page on our website here for more resources from the day, including a Legislative Glossary, Intro to the VA General Assembly and a Self-Assessment tool!

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A number of state legislators participated in SCAN’s Advocacy Day, discussing many of the issues where progress was made in 2016. 

This year’s General Assembly came to a close on March 11th, and it is important to give thanks to our elected officials who have worked diligently on behalf of Virginia’s children and youth. Back in January at the start of the legislative session, SCAN focused on three issues: early childhood education, kinship care, and foster care and youth. It is very exciting to be able to say that Fostering Futures has been included in the 2016 budget and the General Assembly made a significant expansion of home visiting programs & additional investments in the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI).

Voices for Virginia’s Children recently blogged about the progress and gave an excellent overview here. Here is an excerpt:

Even if there were not a lot of headlines, or committee hearings, on early childhood this session we are pleased to see that the groundswell of support from champions cultivated by the early childhood community over the last few years has translated into support for comprehensive investments in early childhood. We also know that we will keep early childhood policy on the radar in the coming weeks and months because of the various groups that will be asked to weigh in on policy recommendations in the future.

Below is the progress we made during the 2016 General Assembly Session:

Budget Items:

  • Significant expansion of home visiting parent and health education services- The final budget includes additional TANF funding- an additional $9.5 M for Healthy Families, $2 M for CHIP and $2 M for Resource Mothers over the biennium. This funding more than doubles the current Healthy Families funding.
  • Increase to early intervention (Part C) services to keep pace with referrals– The legislature accepted the Governor’s proposal to increase state funds for early intervention by $1.7 M in FY17 and $2.5 M in FY18.
  • Increase to VPI per pupil amount- Along with repurposing lottery funds to have more flexibility in the K-12 funding formula, the legislature recognized that the VPI per pupil amount had not increased since 2008 and recommended a 2% increase. The rate will change from $6,000 per pupil to $6,125. This equates to an additional $2.8 M over the biennium.
  • Statewide eligibility criteria for VPI with local flexibility– The legislature accepted the Governor’s proposal to establish a statewide income eligibility below 200% of poverty while allowing states to enroll up to 15% of their VPI students above the income cut-off if they met locally established risk factors.
  • New mixed-delivery preschool grant pilots– The legislature accepted the Governor’s proposal and approved a companion piece of legislation (HB47- Greason) to establish a two-year pilot of $1.5 M each year for testing new approaches for public-private preschool partnerships. We hope to see more of the successes we highlighted in our Preschool Partnership Stories from Alexandria and Fairfax.
  • Child Care Workforce Scholarships- The legislature recommended $600,000 the first year and $1.3 M the second for the creation of scholarships and a competency-based credentialing system through VECF.

A total of $25.4 M in new investments in early childhood education over the biennium…

[Read the full blog post from Voices for Virginia’s Children here.]

We hope you’ll take the time to thank your elected official for the progress made! Here is an example of what you can say:

The Honorable [Elected Official’s Name]

Address City, State, Zip

Dear [Elected Official],

I am writing to thank you for your support of Virginia’s children, youth, and families. Because of your support Virginia’s children and youth have a greater opportunity to grow up with the supports they need to contribute to stronger communities today and as adults tomorrow.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

— Sydna Cooper, MSW Intern with SCAN

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Virginia State Capitol (PHOTO: Ava Reaves, 2015) Source: wtvr.com

Every January, the Virginia General Assembly convenes, and this year children’s issues are once again at the forefront of many discussions. The three main agenda items SCAN will be focusing on in 2016 are early education, foster care and youth, and kinship care. A significant development this year that has the potential to greatly impact children, youth and families in Virginia is Governor McAuliffe’s announcement at the joint money committee of his biennial budget, which included support for early childhood education.

Bills that have been introduced in the legislature that pertain to these issues include:

Early Education and Child Care

A major focus of this year’s agenda is the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) and other aspects of early education. The bills listed below cover a range of issues from early education and childcare providers to providing funding for a mixed delivery approach, which is a major component to reforming VPI.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

  • HB 46: Establishes an Early Education Workforce Committee
  • HB 47: Funds for a mixed delivery preschool program
  • HB 242: Removes the requirement for local communities to provide matching funds to qualify for VPI funds
  • HB 500: Requires national background checks for day care providers and anyone living in the home of a day care provider
  • SB 269: Replaces the requirement that 2 members of the State Board of Social Services represent stand-alone child care center that meets state standards and a religiously exempt child care center

Foster Care and Youth

Reforming Foster Care has been a large part of SCAN’s policy agenda, and was recently addressed at SCAN’s Advocacy Day 2015. In the upcoming General Assembly, Virginia lawmakers have introduced bills surrounding issues of expansion of foster care services and maintaining records.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

  • HB 81: Expand time frame for maintain foster care records until age 22.
  • HB 203: Extends foster care services for children 18-21.
  • HB 271: Parenting time; replaces “visitation” in statutory language.

Kinship Care

Both of the bills introduced this year work towards amending and reenacting exiting laws referring to Kinship Care. (What is Kinship Care? Learn more here.) The third item is a study commissioned to have a better understanding of the feasibility in lessening the restrictions of barrier crimes in order to promote kinship foster care and adoptive placements while ensuring that they are a safe placement for children.

Click on the following links to track related bills:

  • SB 433: Kinship Guardianship Assistance program
  • HB 674 Kinship foster care; waiver of foster home approval standards
  • SJ 73 Study: Department of Social Services; feasibility of lessening restrictions of barrier crimes

The current session continues through February – will you track bills or contact your legislators? We hope so!

— Sydna Cooper, MSW Intern with SCAN

As November draws to a close, many families spend time together and give thanks; November is also National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. It is an opportunity to bring awareness to the fact that in 2013, there were approximately 2.5 million children in the U.S. who experienced homelessness. According to Project Hope-Virginia, of those 2.5 million there were 18,486 students in Virginia identified as homeless.*

The number of children who are experiencing homelessness are at a historic high, and they need the support and concern of their communities. One way we can help is by passing the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA), which will expand the current definition of homelessness and make it easier for homeless children, youth and families to have access to already existing services, regardless of what kind of homelessness they are experiencing (i.e. living in motels and doubled up). In Virginia, 70% of the youth are doubled up (or “couch surfing”). With the passage of HYCA, there would be a change in the definition and an increase in funding for Mckinny-Vento education and housing for Virginia’s youth.

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We know that children who are experiencing homelessness are sick four times as often as other children, they have high rates of acute and chronic illness, they suffer three times the emotional as well as behavioral problems as other children, and they are four times as likely to have developmental delays. With the passage of HCYA, these children and youth will have better access to services and eventually more permanent and stable housing. The stability of a home and no longer being transient have the potential to significantly mitigate those risk factors mentioned above.

With the upcoming holidays, express your gratitude by supporting these children:

  1. Show your support by supporting HCYA on Facebook
  2. Sign a Change.org Petition here.
  3. Write a letter or call your U.S. Senators or Representatives requesting their support. (Our blog post on Advocacy is a good place to learn more about being an effective advocate.)

Resources for further education:

  1. Help Homeless Kids Now
  2. Project HOPE-Virginia
  3. Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness

And don’t forget to visit SCAN’s Parent Resource Center for fact sheets and a recent radio show on the topic!

— Sydna Cooper, SCAN MSW Intern

* Homeless Children America, http://www.homelesschildrenamerica.org/mediadocs/282.pdf and Project Hope-Virginia, http://education.wm.edu/centers/hope/

10620434_10152489822470735_8987194809694495121_oOn Tuesday over 50 professional and community members who wish to be stronger advocates for children attended SCAN’s advocacy training event, Speak Up For Children!, a partnership between SCAN and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

Christie Marra from the Virginia Poverty Law Center gave an engaging presentation about the legislative process and how advocates can influence policies that impact children and families.

“An advocate’s role is to know the political climate, reach out for support, and rally the troops,” noted Christie. Participants spent the rest of the day being empowered to do just that.

Jim Pope, J.D., MSW, the Fairfax County CPS Hearing Officer, shared the story of how his work with the Northern Region Child Fatality Review Team led to successful advocacy efforts at the state level. Jim’s case study on writing and advocating for a bill to allow the team access to critical information to properly address child fatality perfectly illustrated the legislative advocacy process presented by Christie.

The training portion of the event was followed by policy and legislative panels. A panel of representatives from Youth for Tomorrow, Voice for Adoption, and the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis spoke about how policy issues are impacting the populations they serve. The topics discussed included child trafficking, child mental health, and foster care and adoption. Participants also learned the powerful impact fiscal policy has on children and families.

“Virginia needs a different approach than a “cuts only” approach to balance the budget,” noted Jeff Connor Naylor with The Commonwealth Institute. As the panel ended, one person noted that she “gained more knowledge about Virginia’s budget process” that would inform her advocacy work in the future.

A panel of legislators from across Northern Virginia discussed potential state legislation dealing with children and families. Senator Barbara Favola and Delegates Dave Albo, Alfonso Lopez and Charniele Herring spoke with participants about everything from healthcare to poverty to child care standards.

“It was helpful to see the legislators in person and hear their perspectives on the legislative climate,” noted one participant. For many, observing the legislative panel and interacting with local lawmakers helped minimize the distance they felt between their own daily work advocating for children and the larger systems which impact that work. Many indicated that they are now much more likely to track legislation that affects their clients, and contact their legislators in the future.

So what next? Participants at the training walked away with these five tips:

1. KNOW YOUR LEGISLATOR: This easy-to-use “find your legislator” tool makes it fast and easy!

2. ENGAGE MORE with your legislators: Child welfare professionals know the issues and challenges children and families face better than almost anyone, so we need to be the one’s to speak up and let our representatives know when there is a policy issue than needs to be addressed. Legislators need us to keep them informed, and they do value our input.

3. EXPLORE THE “LOBBYIST-IN-A-BOX” TOOL: You can subscribe to this service on Virginia’s Legislative Information System (or LIS) and track up to 5 bills for free.

4. SUBSCRIBE TO SCAN’s CONNECTIONS BLOG: Stay informed on the issues and trends in child welfare both here in Northern Virginia and across the United States.

5. VISIT SCAN’S WEBSITE: Our Statistics, Policy & Research page provides current statistics on child abuse and neglect in Northern Virginia, as well as links to additional resources such as white papers and fact sheets.

As one of the participants was completing an evaluation of the training, she wrote: “I feel this training helped a lot, and I look forward to more children’s advocacy trainings in the future.”

We couldn’t agree more! Follow @SCANconnections and  #speakup4kids on Twitter for more information and updates on advocacy throughout the year.

– Kerry Desjardins
MSW Intern at SCAN and Advocacy Training Coordinator

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SCAN works to build hope for children and families in Northern Virginia. This blog brings child welfare professionals the current trends and valuable resources that will support their work to prevent child abuse and strengthen families in Northern Virginia and beyond.

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