Sunday, April 14, 2024

Family Preservation Project Helps Keep Virginia Families Together

The American Civil Liberties Union reported on average, 700 kids are removed from parents’ custody per day in the United States, and 200,000 enter the foster care system each year. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Virginia legal advocates are partnering on a program to keep families together.

The Family Preservation Project is a collaboration between the Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center. The goal is to create a better approach to family separation cases with improvements to the whole system.

An Annie E. Casey Foundation report found neglect is a growing reason Virginia kids are placed in foster care.

Valerie L’Herrou, deputy director of the Center for Family Advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said sometimes, it is a different story.

“Something like an eviction, or some other legal matter, can precipitate children going into foster care when their families have done nothing wrong,” L’Herrou pointed out.

The two organizations say they are bringing a holistic approach to legal work, providing wraparound legal services for evictions and family separation, along with parent advocates who’ve been through the system guiding others through separations.

Virginia’s Promoting Safe and Stable Families program also helps connect families and children to necessary services to get through a crisis.

One sticking point L’Herrou and others want to change is the price attorneys are paid for taking on family separation cases. The flat rate of $120 per case has turned into a deterrent for those who charge much higher rates for hourly services. She said this creates a lack of proper legal representation for families.

“Attorneys are just not accepting the cases because basically, they can’t afford to,” L’Herrou acknowledged. “Even when they do, they’re not doing anything — they’re not putting any time into it — because in their minds simply, showing up to court is enough. So, one of the recommendations is to raise that $120 flat fee to $445.”

For the first time in 20 years, the Virginia State Bar Association will be advocating at the Virginia General Assembly on the matter, seeking methods to improve the quality of legal services for certain child dependency cases. The association’s request will go before the state Supreme Court for approval.

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