Last week, The Family Foundation policy staff participated in two important Virginia Commission on Youth work groups studying issues that affect families and children in Virginia. We appreciated the invitation from Delegate Chris Peace (R-97, Hanover), the commission's chairman, to participate in these important work groups. The two groups, studying the issues of the restoration of parental rights and kinship care, will make recommendations to the full commission. Some of these recommendations materialize into legislation. As The Family Foundation has learned, the earlier we can be involved with policy proposals, the more we can influence the outcome. While many Virginians are focused on vacation, back to school and the elections, we are here in Richmond working every day to ensure that your values are included in these important debates.

The issues of restoration of rights and kinship care are as important as they are complex. While proposals to improve these situations often are well intended, they come with far reaching consequences that must be evaluated. They must be reviewed from every angle, something that can't always be done efficiently during the frenzied pace and spotlight of a General Assembly session.

For example, the work group discussing kinship care, the process of allowing extended family members to provide childcare in crisis situations rather than the foster care system, found itself discussing a potential expansion of the definition of "relative." Should kinship care include non-relatives — such as an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend? While we wholly support the concept of kinship care and supported legislation this year that would have removed a serious barrier to kinship care regarding schooling, the consequences of redefining "relative" are far-reaching. The goal of kinship care is to prevent children from entering the foster care system even temporarily and, more importantly, to improve the outcome for those children and their families; the key word being families — mom, dad, grandparents, et al.

While we are confident that with your support and prayers we would be able to prevent the redefinition of an important term like "relative" from becoming law if proposed, participating in the discussion early on helps ensure that January won't be the first time we've heard about it. It also allows us to educate legislators on our position in advance. We're hopeful that the work group will focus instead on other issues it discussed, such as removing barriers to kinship care and incentivizing local Social Service Departments to increase their use of kinship care.

This is the kind of work we do every day at The Family Foundation. While the "controversial" legislation makes headlines, it's the day-to-day work in the trenches of the legislative process on issues like this where the real decisions are made. You can be assured that whenever possible, we'll be there to protect your values and to make Virginia a great place to raise children.