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Virginia Advocates’ Policy Wins Bring New Support for Children and Kinship Caregivers   

For more than five years, advocates in Virginia, including Voices for Virginia’s Children, have been advancing policies to strengthen kinship caregiving in the state and—in the past several years—have had significant success in seeing strong policies implemented

“Kinship care” refers to the placement of children and youth in the foster care system with relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or extended family instead of traditional foster placements. Kinship caregivers can include “fictive kin,” who are individuals not related by birth, adoption, or marriage, but who have a family-like relationships with a child — such as neighbors, family friends, or godparents.  

Over the past ten years, kinship care has become widely recognized as best practice in child welfare, and agencies across the country are adopting a kin-first approach to serving children and families. And kinship care has been a longstanding tradition in many communities, including Native American, American Indian, and other communities of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. 

A new series of reports by the Annie E Casey Foundation highlights a national movement across states toward promotion of kinship care and support of kinship caregivers. 

Key catalysts driving this promising shift towards better support for kinship caregivers are effective advocacy and compelling research showing the benefits to children. For example, compared to children in non-kinship arrangements, children in kinship care have greater stability in school; retain connections to one’s culture and community; experience better behavioral and mental health outcomes; and develop a stronger sense of belonging. Importantly, by strengthening kinship policies and practices, agencies can address factors that contribute to inequitable experiences and outcomes, particularly for children of color who are disproportionately involved in child welfare due to systemic discrimination.

In Virginia, recent policy progress include the establishment of a Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program, a kinship-only TANF financial assistance fund, and kin-first administrative guidance from the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS). Passage this year of SB 29 (and House companion HB 27) marks another key milestone. The legislation establishes a foster care prevention program that directs much-needed services and assistance to parents and kinship caregivers so that more children can remain with family and relatives. This family-centered policy reform is not only bipartisan, but the legislation passed unanimously by votes of 96-0 and 40-0 in the House and Senate respectively.

Allison Gilbreath, senior director of policy and programs at Voices for Virginia’s Children and a driving force behind these successful advocacy efforts, attributes this year’s unanimous support for SB 29 and HB 27 to years spent cultivating legislative champions, including SB 29 bill sponsor, Senator Favola.  The House-side bill champion, Rep. Callsen, is new to the state legislature and brings a unique perspective based on her work as a DSS attorney. Prior to being elected, she expressed her intent to work on reforms to remove the barriers that she saw parents and caregivers face in her district.

Gilbreath describes how data is driving their advocacy goals.  In 2016, Virginia’s placement rates for kinship care were just 5 percent. In just five years, Virginia has increased its kinship placement rate to 20 percent, which is still below the national average of 30 percent but represents significant strides in the right direction. Advocates say effective implementation of new policies can help Virginia come in line with the national average.

Gilbreath says the multi-year focus on kinship care policy has been like “putting the building blocks in place” for a more comprehensive, robust and compassionate family-serving system.


“SB 39 and HB 27 represent a positive and much-needed evolution in Virginia’s foster care prevention efforts. By prioritizing kinship placements and ensuring comprehensive support for both the child and their family of origin, these bills contribute to a more robust and compassionate child welfare system.” 

Allison Gilbreath,
Senior Director of Policy and Programs,
Voices for Virginia’s Children 


The new foster care prevention program focuses on keeping children with family and preventing foster care entry. The legislation reinforces goals of family reunification and provides specific protections for the child’s family of origin, including on due process issues and parental rights to seek legal counsel. For kinship caregivers who step in to help, the legislation specifies an agreement process between the caregiver and DSS which includes provisions for financial assistance, case management services, and navigation to other services and supports. 

Virginia is one of a number of states prioritizing kinship care through policy and practice reforms. A recently issued report by the Bipartisan Policy Center identified kinship legislation introduced or enacted in 21 states between 2022-2023. 

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