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In the Face of Drug Crisis, WV Foster Families Step Up

Crystal Smith says of the work she and her husband do for foster children, "It's what God wants us to do." (Courtesy of Smith)
Crystal Smith says of the work she and her husband do for foster children, "It's what God wants us to do." (Courtesy of Smith)
November 12, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The drug crisis means West Virginia is in desperate need of foster families. The state Department of Health and Human Resources says the number of children taken into state custody has risen by nearly 50 percent in the last three years - almost all because one or both parents are addicted to drugs.

Crystal Smith and her husband are foster parents in Ravenswood. She said over the last decade, they've taken in 30 children. She described being a foster parent as an emotional rollercoaster.

"Your heart breaks, but you have to do it,” Smith said. “Those kids - in that moment, when their world is completely ripped apart - they need somebody to be strong for them. They need to feel safe, they need to feel love, they need to feel like they're worth something."

According to DHHR, the state now leads the nation in the rate of children removed from their homes. The department said there is a "drastic shortage" of foster families. Placements are arranged through agencies like Mission West Virginia.

Smith said she and her husband didn't set out to foster so many children, but they adopted the motto "there's always room for one more." She said in one case, they took in a child from a mother who had other children.

"Every time she had a child, we took that child in, so the kids could be raised as a sibling group,” she said. “And if I can help out just one more, or our family can help one more child, then we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."

Smith said they've adopted five of the foster kids. And they’ve made a lot of changes in their lives - like buying a 12-passenger van. She said at Christmas, the living room "looks like ‘Toys 'R' Us exploded."

She also said a lot of people have assumed foster children are bound to cause trouble. But in her experience, that isn't true.

"Probably 98 percent of them are not in foster care for something that they've done,” she said. “They're in a situation that they did not ask for, because of bad choices that their parents have made."

Around 90 percent of the children the Smiths have fostered were separated from their birth families as the result of substance abuse. Child welfare statistics for children in the foster care system in the state is available here.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV