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Trump case expected to head to the jury today; IN food banks concerned about draft Farm Bill; NH parents, educators urge veto of anti-LGBTQ+ bills; Study shows a precipitous drop in migratory fish populations, in US and worldwide.

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Actor Robert DeNiro joins Capitol Police officers to protest against Donald Trump at his New York hush money trial as both sides make closing arguments. And the Democratic Party moves to make sure President Biden will be on the ballot in Ohio.

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Smokey Bear thought only "you" could prevent forest fires, but decomposing mushrooms may also help, a Native American community in Oregon is achieving healthcare sovereignty, and Colorado farmers hope fast-maturing, drought-tolerant seeds will better handle climate change.

Legislation addresses long-standing VA foster care legal issues

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Thursday, February 22, 2024   

Virginia's General Assembly is taking up a bill to address outcomes for kids in foster care.

Previous legislation either failed to pass or was watered down in favor of further research on the issues. House Bill 893 would require Virginia's Judicial Council to adopt new standards for attorneys to qualify to represent parents in child dependency cases.

Valerie L'Herrou, deputy director of the Center for Family Advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, described the impact it can have on families.

"When parents have better legal representation, the children achieve their permanency goal faster," L'Herrou pointed out. "On average, four months faster."

She pointed out the faster turnaround can reduce state foster care operation costs. Typically, Virginia spends $305 million annually on foster care. Most opposition to previous bills has subsided, in light of state research about the extent of the issue. The bill passed the House of Delegates and has been referred to the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice.

With more than 5,000 children in foster care, L'Herrou argued now is the time to act. She added if this bill passes, it could serve as a springboard for future improvements to the system.

"I think this will start giving judges information that they need in order to effectively decide cases," L'Herrou emphasized. "When a case goes to court, you're hearing from both sides, and if you only hear from one side, then you're getting an incomplete picture."

The bill would also raise the rate of compensation for attorneys taking such cases. In the meantime, L'Herrou stressed programs are providing parents with sufficient legal representation. The Family Preservation Project has been filling the gap by taking what she calls a "holistic approach" to family separation cases.

Disclosure: The Virginia Poverty Law Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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