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New Foster Care Group Seeks More Dialogue with State

Three years ago, there were about 4,600 foster children in West Virginia. The number now is close to 6,700. (Pixabay)
Three years ago, there were about 4,600 foster children in West Virginia. The number now is close to 6,700. (Pixabay)
October 12, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – West Virginia is in a foster care crisis, as many addicted parents lose custody of their children.

According to a new group for foster parents, state government needs to consult more with the families taking the kids in. Marissa Sanders is a foster parent and founder of an organization currently known as the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Parent Network.

To help deal with the crisis, Sanders described changes the state is considering, including moving children's health and behavioral services into one big contract with a for-profit, managed-care company.

"Until about a month ago, none of us really knew that this was even being discussed," Sanders said. "What would help is if the leadership at the top had more opportunity to hear the voices of people most impacted by the changes that they want to make."

She described the Department of Health and Human Resources as swamped, with Child Protective Services workers burning out from stress and high caseloads. DHHR figures show in three years, the number of state foster children has risen by 45 percent, largely due to the drug addictions of one or both biological parents.

Some criticize the idea of a managed-care company taking on services for foster children, saying it's money the state doesn't have to spare, going to private profits. They argue there are various models that could be considered.

Sanders acknowledged that it is a complex picture. For example, she mentioned a new federal law that will mean more money going into the system. But Sanders insisted that more focus needs to go to helping families, who often are relatives of the biological parents, stepping in.

"We are putting a lot of resources into the children, which is wonderful," she said. "But we have not really put a whole lot of resources into the families – the biological families, foster families and kinship families – and supporting the parents who are taking kids in."

Sanders' group is calling for more leadership at the governor's office to slow the process and consult with the stakeholders.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV