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One in Four WV Foster Kids Doesn't Live with a Family

PHOTO: About one in four kids in the West Virginia child-welfare system doesn't live in a family setting. A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report says more should be done to change that. Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
PHOTO: About one in four kids in the West Virginia child-welfare system doesn't live in a family setting. A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report says more should be done to change that. Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
May 20, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - More than a quarter of West Virginia kids in the child-welfare system don't live with a family - the third worst rate in the nation, according to a new report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report, "Every Kid Needs a Family," stressed that children and young people in foster care do much better when they live in a family setting. However, said Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, too many in the state are living in institutions or group homes.

"There are over 1,000 children in West Virginia in the foster-care system who are in residential group care," Hale said, "and that makes us third worst in the country."

Hale said the problem is similar and probably connected to what lawmakers found when they examined West Virginia's juvenile justice system. She said foster kids may end up in group settings simply because ways to keep them in their communities or with relatives haven't been put in place. As with the state's juvenile justice reform efforts, she said she believes the changes are well worth making.

According to the report, foster kids who live with families do better in school, are less likely to drink or take drugs, are more optimistic, spend less time in the child-welfare system and have more success later in life.

Tracey Feild, director and manager of the Casey Foundation's Child Welfare Strategy Group, said having a child in an institution or group home is seven to 10 times more expensive than placing them with a family. She stressed that the real costs are long-term, and don't always have to do with money.

"Kids who live in families, supported through tough times, have the best chance for life success," she said. "Separating children unnecessarily from families exacts too high a price, in both human terms and taxpayer dollars."

According to the Casey report, about one in seven minors in foster care nationwide doesn't live with relatives or a foster family - and that of those placed in institutions, 40 percent don't have a behavioral or clinical reason for the more restrictive setting.

The report is online at aecf.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV