Nadia Ramlagan for WVNS
Children’s advocates said they are hoping for major changes to the state’s foster-care and child-protective services systems in the new year.
Recent investigations have highlighted a strained foster-care system, largely because of the opioid crisis and lack of resources.
Marissa Sanders, director of the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Parents Network, said while state lawmakers recently formed a bipartisan child-welfare caucus, she has since seen little movement on the issue.
Sanders would like the state to increase accountability and data collection on how many foster parents are in the state, and what their capacity to care for children is.
“We have a staffing shortage is CPS, which is common,” Sanders asserted. “One of the best ways to alleviate that is to reduce the number of kids coming into care. And in West Virginia, we have the highest number of children per-capita in care of any state in the country, and we remove more children than any other state per capita.”
According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, more than 7,000 West Virginia children currently live in foster care, and in 2019 West Virginia removed 14 out of every 1,000 children from their homes. The national average is three children per 1,000.
Rachel Kinder, FrameWorks Director for Mission West Virginia, said despite the state’s problems and serious concerns over child safety and wellbeing, increasing numbers of kids are entering the foster-care system, and there are not enough adults to care for them.
“So we just have an ever-increasing need for new foster parents,” Kinder explained. “There’s also kind of this cycle where people become foster parents, and if a child is not able to be reunified with their family of origin, then those foster parents a lot of times adopt. And that lessens their ability to be foster parents.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 140,000 children lost a caregiver or parent due to pandemic-related causes, and it is estimated a portion of those children could end up in foster care.
Sanders added foster care is designed to be a temporary intervention, and she believes the state should shift toward a model which increases partnership between birth parents and foster parents to strengthen a child’s web of support.
“Really, the goal of fostering is always reunification, unless it becomes clear that’s not safe,” Sanders emphasized.
According to the publication The Imprint, the number of children who were living with foster parents through state agencies across the country dropped by 4% during the pandemic. As of last March, around 402,000 children were in foster care nationwide.