Week in Richmond Brings Mixed Results

Photo: Parental Rights Foundation President Michael Ramey at the Virginia State Capitol on on January 30, 2024.

Two weeks ago, I alerted you to a bill in Virginia that would rob parents of important due process protections and let the Department of Social Services (DSS) coerce innocent parents into signing their children into the care of relatives to avoid having those same children placed in foster care with strangers instead.

While the bill is still not nearly all we would want it to be, I am happy to report that it is much improved, in no small part thanks to those of you in Virginia sounding the alarm.

On the Ground in Richmond

Probably no one in our coalition community deserves more thanks than Fallon Speaker, an attorney with the Richmond branch of Legal Action Justice Center (LAJC) who first saw the bill and testified against it in committee in mid-January. Until she stood up, the bill was favored by both parties, in both houses of the legislature, and in the governor’s office. Her lone voice made lawmakers step back and take a closer look.

In the hours and days immediately following that hearing, she convened our coalition to look at and weigh in on the problems in the bill, which we did. Then I passed our concerns on to you, and those of you who live in Virginia weighed in with your lawmakers, as well.

The following weekend, coalition partners began editing the bill to make it more what it needs to be both to protect children and to provide due process to parents. We want to provide for kinship caregivers, and we agree with the bill’s authors that keeping children with family members is better than sending them to live with strangers.

But we also realize that, whenever possible, the very best place for children is at home with their parents. We only want to see them sent to live with kin when it is necessary that they leave their parent’s home.

Last week, I spent three days in Richmond, and the biggest part of my time there was spent strategizing with Fallon and other coalition partners, then meeting with representatives from the governor’s office, to make sure innocent parents get a seat at the table. It was exciting to be on the ground in the Virginia capitol, meeting with officials and coalition partners. (And let me insert here my personal gratitude to LAJC for their warm hospitality!)

Our meeting with the governor’s staff didn’t go as well as I might have liked. But it did give us a voice in the discussion both now and into the future. And the bill as it stands now, even without the edits I had hoped we could get them to include, is still much better than the original version that we saw three weeks ago.

It doesn’t include tracking, which is crucial. And it leaves too much time before providing judicial oversight to protect parents’ and children’s rights. These are things we will need to continue to work on, even if this bill passes.

Because what we don’t want is to see Virginia’s formalizing of “hidden foster care” become a model for other states to follow. Anytime children are removed from their parents by the state, families are entitled to due process and the outcomes should be tracked.

Refreshing Lemonade in 2025

But there was one very exciting development this past week that came about because of our preparations for that meeting: We now have friends on both sides of the political aisle ready to begin work on bringing a Parents’ Bill of Rights to the Virginia legislature!

The deadline to submit bills for 2024 has already passed, but that just means we have nine or ten months to prepare language that we can bring in 2025. And with support from both sides of the aisle, it could be just what Virginia’s Democrat-led legislature and Republican governor will need a year from now so they can work together to protect families.

Sometimes, life gives you lemons and you learn to make lemonade. Last week, we took the first steps toward bringing some very refreshing changes to the Old Dominion.

Thank you to those of you who have given to support our mission. You made my trip to Richmond possible. And thank you to those who might invest today to make our next trip possible, as well, wherever that takes us.

Together, we can protect children by empowering parents, immediately whenever possible, but further down the road when necessary. Either way, we won’t give up on the vital work of protecting families.