The list of needs Prince William social services agencies shared with two state senators Friday is long but focuses mostly on one thing: the need for more money.
Members of the county’s appointed Community Services Board told state Sens. Jeremy McPike, D-29th, and George Barker, D-39th, the county needs more funding for “Medicaid waivers” and medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse, as well as supportive housing, mental health counseling and workforce services for the intellectually disabled.
All are critical when it comes to improving the lives of Prince William County residents who rely on such services for their everyday needs.
“All of us here are asking on behalf of people who can’t speak for themselves,” said Karen Smith, a member of the county’s disability services board. “We need to help these people, and we can’t do it without the funding.”
The group met with Barker and McPike ahead of the upcoming 2019 Virginia General Assembly session, which kicks off Jan. 9.
Foster care concerns
The Dec. 14 gathering came in the wake of a critical report about the state’s foster-care system recently released by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, a state-funded agency that studies state services and policies.
Jen Jones, a former foster parent, said Prince William County shares one of the concerns highlighted in the report: that too many Virginia foster children “age out” of foster care without being adopted or reunited with their families.
Virginia ranks near the bottom of all 50 states when it comes to the number of foster kids who age out of the system without a stable family placement.
In 2016, 464 Virginia foster kids – or about 20 percent – aged out of foster care. The national average is about 9 percent, Jones said.
“One of the kids who came to my house explained it to me as ‘fading,’” Jones told the state senators regarding what it feels for a foster child as they approach the age of 18.
“When you’re a teen in foster care, as soon as you hit 13, you begin to fade. And every day until your 18thbirthday, you fade a little bit more, like a toner running out in a printer, until finally you wake up the day of your 18thbirthday and like at the end of a movie, you have faded to black,” she added. “You’re alone in the darkness with nobody. All support systems are gone.”
Jones said she’s not sure how many Prince William kids aged out of foster care last year.
Barker agreed that foster care is an area in which Virginia “is struggling.” He said he and his wife are also former foster parents.
“We do not have a comprehensive system that functions effectively across all services,” Barker said of the state’s foster-care agencies. “We are working through a lot of the issues… We are determined to make sure we address the issues so we dramatically improve the quality of services for children.”
Medication-assisted treatment for addiction
Regarding medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and other substance use disorders, Patrick Sowers, a member of the county and state community services boards, said Prince William received about $50,000 in grant money for such treatment in 2018 but needs more.
“It’s not just opioids we’re dealing with. We’re seeing an increase in alcohol abuse and other substance abuse throughout our community,” Sowers said. “A true problem we run into is a lack of physicians who are able to write prescriptions.”
Barker said the state is working on creating more residency slots to keep medical students at state universities in Virginia as one way to deal with the problem. McPike said state lawmakers are aware of the issue.
“We know we need an influx of skilled workers in this area to deal with it and to also support additional beds,” McPike said. “That’s something I know the finance committee will look at.”
The advocates said Prince William County has 179 residents on the “priority 1” waiting list for Medicaid waivers, which allow recipients to wave the right to standard Medicaid benefits to receive more extensive services for day-to-day needs, such as skilled nursing care. The waivers are generally reserved for the severely disabled and are limited by state funding.
The General Assembly added about 800 additional Medicaid waiver slots in 2018. Both Barker and McPike said they hope to fund more in 2019.
“There is strong bipartisan support for getting rid of the [priority 1] waiting list,” Barker said. “We won’t get it done this year, but I think by the next biennium, we’ll be able to put enough resources in over that time period to deal with it.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org