Ohio County Teachers Step into Foster Care Emergency
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In Ohio County, W.Va., the drug crisis is breaking up so many homes that the public schools are forced to ask teachers and staff to foster displaced children.
Raquel McLeod and her husband both work for the schools in Wheeling. Three years ago they agreed to emergency foster two brothers.
She says Tresz and Rynder's biological father died of an overdose, and their mother has her own substance abuse problems.
McLeod says she and her husband had met the boys a few days before and that they are very sweet. But she says that day they had two hours to decide.
"They just took your heart as soon as you saw them,” she recalls. “And that was around 1 o'clock. We had to 3 o'clock to decide.
“I called my husband and my mom, who lives with us, and spoke to her. We all agreed that we needed to keep these boys together."
According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the number of children taken into state custody has risen by about 50 percent since 2014. The department says almost 90 percent of that is due to substance abuse in the home.
Another teacher and adoptive parent says the schools end up in this role because abuse or neglect often shows up first in the classroom or the nurse’s office.
McLeod says teachers care deeply about their students. She says she knows of four children fostered by folks at two local elementary schools. And sometimes the system is still straining at the limits.
"Workers were having to stay in hotels with kids because there were no homes available,” she states. “At our Madison Elementary School, we had a child about to be removed and one of the teachers stepped up to do that. And there's a second one at that school."
This fall, McLeod and her husband adopted the boys. She says they're getting almost all As and starting to play in a soccer league.
McLeod says you can see the change in them, such as the way the older brother shows signs of past abuse.
"If you move too fast, he would flinch,” she explains. “They thanked us that their sheets smelled good. One had mentioned when he opened up the refrigerator within the first week that 'you have so much food in here.'"