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BERRYVILLE — The Clarke County Department of Social Services (DSS) will place more emphasis on counseling families to try and keep mistreated youth out of foster care.
On July 1, the agency and its counterparts statewide will start participating in Families First Virginia. The program is the result of federal legislation enacted in 2018 as part of reforms to child welfare funding.
Foster care refers to temporary living arrangements in which specially-trained adults care for young people whose birth parents can't care for them. Children and teenagers who are abused and neglected are among those who enter the foster care system.
States previously could use Title IV-E funds only to help with costs toward keeping eligible children in foster care, administrative expenses, training for human services workers and foster parents, and adoption and kinship guardianship assistance. The funds now can be put toward prevention services enabling youth eligible for foster care to stay with their parents or relatives while problems within their households are being worked out, according to a National Conferences of State Legislatures website.
Research has shown that "children always do better when they stay with their families and in their community of origin" while family problems are resolved, said Clarke County DSS Director Jennifer Parker.
They're able to remain in familiar surroundings and in contact with siblings, classmates and teachers who can provide emotional support during their ordeals, Parker said. They may lose that support if they enter foster care, especially in another community where people don't know them, she said.
Furthermore, research has revealed that many young people when they reach age 18, when they age out of foster care eventually re-establish contact with their families. Often, Parker said, they still care about their families and/or they want to find out why they were mistreated.
"They do it for their own closure," she said of the latter.
Clarke County DSS currently is handling three foster care cases, as well as four cases in which social workers are trying to keep young people out of temporary placement, said Parker.
As part of Families First Virginia, she said, three types of "pretty complex services" will be made available to abused or neglected children and their families.