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New Bills Aim to Relieve WV Foster-Care Crisis

Some West Virginia foster parents are troubled by a bill in the Legislature that would reduce licensing requirements for state caseworkers. (Adobe Stock)
Some West Virginia foster parents are troubled by a bill in the Legislature that would reduce licensing requirements for state caseworkers. (Adobe Stock)
January 17, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Demands on West Virginia's foster-care system have exploded due to the opioid epidemic, and state lawmakers are proposing ways to tackle the crisis.

Child-welfare bills announced this week in the Legislature would speed up adoption timelines and create a foster-care bill of rights. But Marissa Sanders - chair of the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parent Network - thinks one bill could actually be harmful to kids.

It proposes that Child Protective Services or CPS caseworkers would not be required to have social workers' licenses.

"Social work is a broad field, but CPS workers are making life-and-death decisions for children and families every day," says Sanders. "So, to have them not have the highest level of training and credentialing possible is problematic."

She notes the bill is supposed to ease the burden for understaffed caseworkers, but says it might create more turnover - since anyone with a bachelor's degree could become a caseworker, as long as they meet certain requirements and are trained by the department.

Sanders's group, with more than 600 members, met in Charleston last week to discuss their legislative priorities for foster and adoptive children. Foster parent Stacy Jacques of Hurricane was there.

She's fostered 26 children over 13 years. She welcomes lawmakers' ideas for improvements - but thinks they also need to pass a measure to give foster parents greater input into the system.

"Having a voice is the most important thing that foster parents want," says Jacques. "Foster parents are not allowed to speak in court, and foster parents are not permitted to submit anything to the court. And if you do try to speak to the court or file a motion to intervene, they'll retaliate against you. Normally, they remove the child."

According to the latest West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources figures, about seven-thousand children are in the state's foster-care system - the highest number ever.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV