We had the pleasure of sitting down with the new Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS). Having had experience as the Program Director for Benefit Services and serving as the Director of No Child Hungry is a bonus for the new role of Commissioner Duke Storen. He has a clear compassion for serving those in need and a rich history of designing and managing services to meet those needs.
We asked Commissioner Storen to tell us about some of the initiatives that are most in the forefront of his first year as Commissioner.
I am most interested in building a whole family approach as the foundation of all we do here at VDSS, including prevention of crises that lead to homelessness, poor health, family disruptions, and so much more.
What are some examples of programs that would most build on his completely family approach?
For one thing, I am very interested in adopting a universal home visiting screening program following a North Carolina model. This would establish a visiting nurse that calls on every family following the birth of a child.
Could that type of program be utilized, for example, for new kinship caregivers or adoptive parents to ensure they are able to access needed services?
I think that could be an important addition to this program. It is not a part of the North Carolina model, but it certainly makes sense. I would like to think through how we might include that concept.
Do you anticipate laying a foundation for trauma-informed services and care throughout the Department’s services?
I am pleased to report that the Governor is continuing his work of the Children’s Cabinet and we are really beginning to focus Trauma-Informed care as one of three main initiatives with food security and early learning as the other two. In the coming months, we will begin to develop a framework across all of the Departments in the Cabinet to ensure we are focusing on prevention and other services that are trauma-informed from addressing economics, abuse, neglect, mental health challenges and more.
What do you think is a one of the major challenges in child welfare in Virginia?
I know there are many challenges, but I do think much of it emanates from a workforce shortage and staff turnover. We are currently working to assess the extent of this issue and considering solution. I am hopeful that the current work of the Joint Commission on Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in reviewing the challenges facing foster care will help to lay out a roadmap for solving the issue that leads to children lingering too long in foster care or parents unable to get the answers they need to support the children in their home, because workers have caseloads that are too high. We are not just waiting for this report, we are actively discussing this challenge with local agencies and our state staff to try and find solutions within our existing resources and identifying the additional resources that may help to eliminate the problem of staffing in foster care and adoption.
Do you have any plans to address kinship care issues during your administration?
I recognize that kinship care is a valued service not only for children, but to the Commonwealth and that these caregivers need support for the children in their care. We have been very supportive of the legislative Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program and have implemented this important piece of legislation.
NewFound Families-Virginia would appreciate your willingness to host a single meeting on the issues and challenges faced in providing equal and appropriate services to children in kinship care. We believe that such a meeting could illuminate some of the challenges and that together a multi-disciplinary and interagency panel of experts in Virginia could help identify a pathway to kinship care supports using existing programs and funding. Is this something you would consider?
I would be pleased to host such a meeting and will be working with my team to find the best time to convene.