Foster care bill raises concerns

A foster care bill caused confusion among lobbyists and legislators last week in the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.

Senate Bill 1037, sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, would eliminate independent living as a permanent goal for foster children over age 16.

“Right now, what you have is ... adolescents who are given a goal of independent living and you don’t have anyone trying to place them into families. Families are very important,” Barker said. “I’ve been a foster parent; my wife and I have had a number of foster children over the years.”

The Virginia Association of Children’s Homes testified against the bill on Friday, saying it would strip older foster children of a right to pursue independent living. Legislators then asked a myriad of questions in an attempt to better understand the issue.

“I just want to make sure I have a firm grip on what we’re doing,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville. “So what we’re saying is that [independent living] cannot be the final goal; it always has to be an option to go back to a family member unless you’re a refugee or an asylum?”

Christine Marra of the Virginia Poverty Law Center testified in support of SB 1037.

“This bill does not impact placement,” Marra said. “This bill allows a child to live in an independent living placement until that child turns 18. What it does change is the ability of the child to have a new goal at age 16 of transitioning to independent living.”

Following more questions and discussion, Sen. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, asked the committee to delay consideration of the bill until this week.

“I met with some advocates of this plan last night and I read through it, and I still don’t get it,” McWaters said. “I don’t want to make a decision that’s going to affect children. There’s a thousand children in this program now, so let’s make sure we really get it.”

To track or comment on Senate Bill 1037, visit http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/sb1037
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