Department of Family Services – Children, Youth and Families

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
703-324-7500 TTY 711
12011 Government Center Parkway, Pennino Building
Fairfax, VA 22035
Oriane Eriksen

Improvements in Relative Engagement and Kinship Placements from 2023 to 2024

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(Posted 2024 April)

red heart in handsChanges in legislation have opened the door for improvements in child welfare practice in the state of Virginia this past year. Historically Virginia has not engaged relatives of youth in foster care like we should. A better understanding of best practices and a desire to keep youth connected to their families have contributed to a shift in the Fairfax County Department of Family Services. 

It has been about a year since we started offering kinship navigation in the Foster Care Permanency Unit, and we have implemented several changes allowing us to strengthen our kinship services as we have built up our team. We are excited to share some highlights from the last year. 

Staffing Changes in Permanency
We now have two kinship navigator positions. Annette Phillips has been one of our kinship navigators since July 2023. Annette joined the Permanency Unit after working for several years in DFS Child Protective Services and Foster Care and Adoption. Altogether, Annette has over 20 years of experience in a variety of jurisdictions and professional roles engaging at-risk youth and families. She brings a wealth of experience and drive to the team. 

Our initial kinship navigator, Erin Walsh, moved to a newly created kinship resource specialist position in December 2023. Erin focuses on writing Mutual Family Assessments and ensuring families identified through kinship navigation have the emotional and financial support needed to care for their relatives. We are in the process of hiring for the kinship navigator position left vacant by this shift.

adult hand holding baby's footStarting March 11, 2024, we added a case aide to support the kinship navigators as they guide a family through the kinship waiver process. The case aide is instrumental in helping get the home set up for a relative placement and helping the family complete documents or background checks. 

CYF Staff Embraces Kinship Support
Across CYF, staff is increasingly motivated to place youth with relatives when possible. With the changes in the Permanency Unit, we have been able to have a renewed focus on the process and procedures for identifying and engaging relatives. 

Our unit has been teaming closely with Child Protective Services specialists when a youth is at risk of an out-of-home placement due to abuse and neglect. We are now at the table for most high-risk staffings, and we are doing family searches when CPS feels there is a chance the case could go to separation or is need of support from relatives. 

All cases referred to the Permanency Unit start with a relative search. Both CPS and Foster Care are working hard to refer cases as early as possible and reengage relatives throughout the life of the case. With the addition of the kinship resource specialist our unit is now able to complete Mutual Family Assessments on the relatives identified through kinship navigation. This has allowed for an easy transfer of information and a team approach to support. 

The Children, Youth, and Families Division is working to place youth with their families whenever possible. The Permanency Unit continues to assess relatives’ willingness and ability to provide care and complete the Permanency Assessment Tool (PAT) to seek an emergency kin foster care placement approval. We have seen a drastic increase over the past few months with the level of kinship waivers being requested and approved. 

The Impact on Families and Children is Encouraging
As for measuring success it is still a bit early to know the long-term effects of our efforts, but we are moving the needle. More relatives are being engaged and participating in Family Partnership Meetings and the plan for their family members. More relatives are being brought on as kinship caregivers. More children are staying connected to their families. 

grandparents holding babyFor many years as a system, we assumed that when it came to relatives “the apple did not fall far from the tree.”  We are learning that instead these relatives can be valuable members of our team and tremendous support to our youth. The Permanency Unit has started celebrating our monthly kinship champions. These are workers who are going above and beyond to keep youth connected to their families. As one worker shared, “this work feels important, we are helping to keep families together and it has sparked something in me.” 

And how are our families feeling? One grandmother whose grandchildren were at risk of coming into care summed it up when she said, “Thank you for calling, no one has ever called me. I have been trying to help my daughter for years, but she would not let me. I live two hours away, but I will be there to pick up my grandchildren tonight.”

Provided by Maggie Moreland, Permanency Unit supervisor.

This article posting is part of the Foster Family News monthly newsletter designed to keep foster parents informed about all the new and notable happenings in Fairfax County.

Learn about what the Foster Care and Adoption program has planned for foster families - stay on top of trends, participate in trainings and learn about policy changes.

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