West Virginia state lawmakers have acknowledged that the Mountain State’s foster care system has been a mess for a while. But so far, they haven’t come up with a plan to fix the problems uncovered by a nonprofit news organization.
The state’s child welfare advocates, however, haven’t been sitting around waiting to see what lawmakers might do. Rather, they stepped into the void and recently offered up a slate of sweeping proposals to right the system, as reported by the Mountain State Spotlight.
The Spotlight’s investigation reported last month that the state Department of Health and Human Resources was not giving foster families the support they were entitled to. As a result of a shortage of both foster families and state caseworkers, children wound up in residential facilities that in some cases were known to have a poor regulatory record in terms of abuse and neglect.
Late last month, the WV Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network presented policy recommendations to lawmakers during a virtual town hall. The coalition was backed by foster parents whose tales of experience with the system underscored the need for the proposals.
One recommended policy change would require the Department of Health and Human Resources, the primary child welfare agency, to track and publicize more data about foster children, as well as the families available to take care of them. Currently, the agency’s online dashboard tracks the number of West Virginia kids in foster care, but nothing on the availability of families willing and able to care for them.
Aimee Goddard, a lawyer who works with foster families, explained in the Spotlight article why this was so important.
“We see all the time that there are open homes, and yet we hear all the time that there are no open homes,” she said.
Advocates say a more robust public database would give lawmakers and others keener insight into how to ease the foster care system’s problems and improve the lives of kids, including how to keep children from falling into care in the first place.
One goal would be to reduce the number of children who wind up being placed in troubled residential facilities.
“It’s much better for kids to be in homes versus residential facilities,” said Marissa Sanders, who founded the advocacy group.