How Virginia laws affect women: Childcare
By Keya Vakil
June 19, 2019

Check out the rest of our series on how Virginia laws affect women here.

The National Partnership for Women and Families reports that 79% of black mothers, 48% of white mothers and 48% of Latina mothers in Virginia are the key breadwinners in their families, making affordable childcare critical for women in Virginia.

This year state lawmakers made some attempts to revise the state’s laws to reflect the importance of childcare, though there’s still a way to go according to advocacy groups like Voices for Virginia’s Children.

During this year’s session, Gov. Northam proposed substantial measures to improve the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI), a state-funded program that supports quality preschool programs for approximately 18,000 at-risk four-year-olds in the state.

These improvements included additional professional development and curriculum enhancements in classrooms, but the General Assembly opted not to fund these measures in the state budget.

Legislators did agree to make minor improvements to the VPI program and to fund the VPI Plus program, which focuses on increasing preschool enrollment across the state and developing an infrastructure of support for curriculum, professional development, and assessment.

The VPI+ program will receive $6.1 million in funding, which will allow classrooms in 13 school districts to continue operating after they lost a federal grant. According to advocacy group Voices for Virginia’s Children, this will allow more than 1,500 at-risk four-year-olds to attend high-quality preschools.

The General Assembly also passed SB1015, which expands tax-funded scholarships to children attending nonpublic pre-kindergarten if their parents are unable to enroll them in the VPI program. These scholarships, which vary in amount based on location, will be available to middle-income families to attend preschool programs that meet certain qualifications.

The General Assembly also agreed to fund a 5% increase to the benefits families receive from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides cash, childcare, transportation and other support for low-income families.

Lawmakers also acted in bi-partisan fashion to overhaul the state’s foster care system after the General Assembly’s research organization released an alarming report that found Virginia’s social services policies are among the worst in the nation.

Leaders from both parties agreed to direct $2.8 million to create more than a dozen new positions within the Department of Social Services in order to improve the state’s foster system.

The General Assembly also passed a bill from Sen. Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), which aims to increase family placement by requiring that the state tells relatives when a child is placed in foster care. Currently, only 7% of Virginia foster children are placed with family members, well below the 32% national average.

These reforms aim to help improve resolutions for Virginia’s foster children, 48% of whom are girls. Advocates say that children do better in the care of family members and are more likely to remain with them rather than shuffling from one home to another.

This is the desired outcome in most states, as it decreases the odds that foster children will age out of the system without being adopted. While Virginia extends services to foster children until the age of 21 through its Fostering Futures program, it’s a voluntary program and most young Virginians choose not to opt in, even though aging out can have significant consequences.

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 70% of the young women who age out of foster care in the United States become pregnant before 21, and 75% of women receive government benefits to meet basic needs after aging out of the system.

In total, lawmakers allocated nearly $4 million to reform the state’s foster care system and Gov. Ralph Northam also announced a new program, Virginia Fosters, to bring government, faith groups, nonprofit organizations and businesses together to help solve the state’s foster care crisis.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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