Among the nearly 2,000 bills filed in the General Assembly this session, there is one that is particularly personal for Del. David Reid (D-32).
Reid, who spent his formative years in Virginia’s foster care system, has introduced a bill that would allow for post-adoption contact and communication between children and their birth parents in cases where deemed appropriate.
Reid, who’s in his first term representing the Ashburn area in the House of Delegates, was placed in foster care at 10 years old, after his mother left the family and his father was on his own to raise five children in Rockbridge County.
“We were living in a four-room house with an outhouse and woodstove to heat the place,” Reid said. “When I was 10, my dad decided he just wasn’t able to take care of us the way he felt we needed to be taken care of.”
So he handed his children over to the state. Reid lived in what was then called the United Methodist Children’s Home in Richmond, which was thought of as an orphanage where children would live until they were young adults. But Reid was adopted by friends of his father’s at age 16. They helped him get into college in Oklahoma, where he became the first in his family to earn a college degree.
Reid describes his experience with Virginia’s foster care system as positive. His sister also had a good experience; she went on to work as a legal secretary, in large part thanks to the state’s willingness to let her stay at the children’s home after she turned 18 and also offered her business school classes.
“For me, the process was very positive because it gave me opportunities I would not have otherwise gotten,” Reid said, referring to his college education.
The legislator introduced his bill, HB 1728, to allow for former foster children to continue to have a relationship with their birth parents, even after they are adopted.
“The intent is to at least make sure that a social worker or someone is notifying the birth parents, as well as the child if he is 14 years or older, that they could enter into this voluntary communication and contact agreement, as long as it’s in the child’s best interest,” Reid said.
The legislation provides exceptions if the parents’ parental rights were terminated because of abuse.
“Out of the relationship with my foster parents, I have this extended family. And I still have a good relationship with my dad,” Reid said. “I want to make sure that other children have similar opportunities.”
Reid’s legislation is one of a half dozen bills related to foster care that are working their way through the General Assembly. Many of those are in response to a newly released report from Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that found that the commonwealth ranks 49th in the country for youth who age out of foster care without permanent connections—on average about 500 youth each year. The report also unveiled that most jurisdictions’ Family Services Departments are extremely understaffed, with case workers shouldering caseloads of 15 or more children.
Reid said that it may take a few years to fully respond to the report’s findings with solutions. “I’ve come to appreciate that it’s really a challenge to be able to solve all the problems all at once,” he said. “As long as we recognize that there are some problems and we’re moving in the right direction to solve them, then we can make incremental improvements along the way.”
Some of the shortfalls identified in the study can be improved through law changes, Reid added, but in other cases it will require members of the public, local governments and nonprofits to step up.
Loudoun County Department of Family Services Director Glenda Blake declined to comment on the commission’s study.