The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act, commonly referred to as FOIA, is governed by § 2.2-3700 et. seq. of the Code of Virginia. FOIA guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, officials and employees.
A public record is any writing or recording - regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording or any other stored media format - that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
Requesting VDSS Records
- You may request records by U.S. Mail, e-mail, or over the phone.
- There is no specific form that must be used to make a FOIA request.
- The request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity" so that we can accurately identify and locate the records that you are seeking. You do not need to provide a reason for the records being requested.
- Your request must include your name and legal address to assist in determining your eligibility to receive Virginia-sourced public records.
- We can only provide records or documents that already exist. FOIA does not apply to general questions about the work of VDSS and does not require VDSS to create a record that does not exist.
- You may choose to receive records in any format used by VDSS in the regular course of business. Commonly, records are provided electronically via e-mail or as a printed copy.
- Prior to submitting your request, please review the Common Statutory Exemptions to ensure your record is allowable for public disclosure in accordance with FOIA. For example, FOIA does not allow the provision of records related to Child Protective Services and foster care.
How to Request Records from VDSS:E-mail: FOIA@dss.virginia.gov
Mail: Virginia Department of Social Services
FOIA c/o Ross McDonald
801 E. Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219-2901
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by e-mail or by telephone at 804-698-1810 or (toll free) at (866) 448-4100.
- It is free to make a records request. However, the Virginia FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This includes staff time to search, review, and/or redact the requested records, copying costs or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records.
- You may request that we estimate the charges for supplying the records that you have requested in advance or at the time the request is sent.
- We will need to receive your payment for any associated costs before proceeding with your request. The time allowed for VDSS to provide the records will be on hold from the time when the cost estimate is provided until payment is received.
- If we estimate that it will cost more than $200, we will require a deposit of 50% of the total estimated cost before proceeding with the request.
Payment can be made by check or money order written to the Virginia Department of Social Services. Please
reference the FOIA requestor's name to ensure the payment is appropriately applied to the specific FOIA
Payment can be sent to:
Virginia Department of Social Services
FOIA c/o Ross McDonald
801 E. Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219-2901
- If you need to lower the cost, VDSS is available to offer suggestions to modify the request.
- If you owe money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, VDSS may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to any new FOIA requests.
What Happens After You Make a FOIA Request
- VDSS will respond to the request within five working days of receiving your request. The five-day period begins on the first working day after the request is received and does not include weekends or holidays.
- You will be notified if VDSS does not have records related to your request or if there are specific statutory exemptions to the records requested [anchor].
- In some instances, part of the record may be provided whereas portions must be redacted or withheld. We will, however, provide to you every part of the requested record allowable by law.
- If it is not practical or not possible to provide the record within the five-day period, we will notify you that we will need the seven additional working days (allowable by § 2.2-3704) to provide the requested records.
Common Statutory Exemptions
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. VDSS commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1));
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work products (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3));
- Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6));
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2--3705.1 (12));
- Client records (§ 2.2-3705.5(3), 63.2-104, 63.2-105);
- Confidential records and information related to child protective services and child-placement agencies (§ 63.2-104, § 63.2-105).
Additional Important Information
VDSS does not have custody of records related to the child welfare system.
Records related to the child welfare system are in the custody of the local department of social services (LDSS). For LDSS contact information, click here.
VDSS does not have custody of records related to Adult Protective Services (APS).
The Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is the governing body for APS. Any such request regarding APS should be directed to DARS and/or the local department of social services (LDSS).
You can visit the DARS webpage dedicated to FOIA requests by going here. Information on how to request records from DARS can be found here. For LDSS contact information, click here.
Different records are held at the Virginia Department of Social Services than at the local department of social services.
In Virginia, public assistance and social services are supervised at the state level and administered locally by the local department of social services (LDSS). Some records maybe maintained by the LDSS and not the Virginia Department of Social Services.
Under this system, each LDSS exists as their own entity and any FOIA requests for records maintained at the local level will need to be sent directly to the local office. VDSS is not able to forward a FOIA request to a LDSS but will provide you with contact information to a specific LDSS if they are known to house the records being requested. For LDSS contact information, click here.
If you are seeking records on yourself, you will be required to provide a verification of your identity. This verification is required in order to protect your privacy and to ensure that your private information is not inappropriately disclosed to someone else. Whenever you request information about yourself you will be asked to provide a copy of your Virginia Driver's License or other state-issued photo identification and either a notarized statement or a statement signed under penalty of perjury stating that you are the person you say you are.
If you are seeking records about another person, you will be required to provide authorization from that individual permitting the disclosure of the records to you, or proof that the individual is deceased. Authorization should be provided at the same time as the FOIA request is made.
Examples of authorization include, but are not limited to, a notarized statement, power of attorney, VDSS-sourced notices, or other designations of authorized representation.
Records that could invade another person's privacy will often not be disclosed.