Lawyers, lawmakers, about two dozen foster families, and others put their heads together Tuesday evening to discuss what’s working and what could be better inside West Virginia's foster care system.
The forum is one of a series of listening sessions being hosted across the state by the non-profit child welfare organization, the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.
The group, which helps certify foster families, is compiling policy suggestions ahead of next year’s legislative session, where foster care is once again expected to be a top issue.
The number of West Virginia children in foster and kinship care has doubled since 2015 largely due to the opioid epidemic.
Brandi Davis, regional director with the Children's Home Society, said there are nearly 7,000 kids currently in the system.
“We wanted to hold this forum just to get everybody together to be able to talk about foster care and adoption and kinship care to make sure that we make sure that the people who put bills in place [sic] that could impact our foster care system later on really understand what these families need,” she said.
Participants generally praised the hard-working case workers and child advocates involved in the foster care system.
Many expressed concerns over the sometimes burdensome paperwork required from foster families and long wait times for approvals from West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources staff for things ranging from final home visits to approving babysitters.
“We’re eight months in and I might have one babysitter,” said Emily Tanner, whose almost 9-month-old foster daughter was bouncing on her lap. She said the requirements to babysit foster children can be onerous and includes state residency requirements as well as a background check and being fingerprinted.
Tanner is fostering with the hope of adopting, and said, for her, the uncertainty and drawn out process — both to get final approval to be a foster parent and now waiting to adopt — has been challenging.
One foster family said they submitted paperwork for a final home inspection in January, but didn’t receive it until June.
Dianna Dickins, regional supervisor for Child Protective Services in Monongalia County, said she understood frustrations with CPS. She said the agency in Monongalia County is fully-staffed for the first time in three years, however case workers still have, on average, 45 cases each at one time.
This was the Children's Home Society's second listening event. The first was held in Madison, Boone County, on August 15th. The next event is scheduled for Thursday, September 5th, from 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. at Ritchie County High School in Ellenboro, Ritchie County. Other events are in planning stages.