In 2018, the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a devastating report on foster care in Virginia. From failures to recruit foster parents, to a lack of oversight and placements, the state was falling behind. Gilbreath, a policy analyst at Voices for Virginia’s Children, knew she had to do something.
“There was no uniformity in services,” she says, so she started a foster-care network at Voices, the first of its kind. “I brought in people from foster youth programs, youth who are or were in foster care, and foster and biological parents.” She wanted everyone at the table.
She also established the first-ever Foster Care Caucus in the General Assembly, chaired by Delegate Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. The legislature can be a hard place to get things done, but Gilbreath says it came together easily.
“This isn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue,” she says. “It wasn’t hard to bring people together to say we have to do better for our kids in foster care.”
In response, the state budgeted nearly $6 million to improve foster care. Gilbreath is now mentoring the next generation of social workers with her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Gilbreath credits her experiences as a black woman and social worker with her commitment to real inclusivity.
“In social work, our mantra is, ‘Nothing about us, without us,’” she says. “Sometimes the least valued voice in the room is that of the children we’re supposed to be serving. I wanted to make sure they’re heard from the start.”