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Marissa Sanders

The past several years have brought many changes to West Virginia’s child welfare system.

Some of the more impactful changes have included the creation of the Centralized Intake Unit for screening reports of child abuse, requiring all non-kin foster families to be certified by private child placing agencies; creating the office of the Foster Care Ombudsman; passing the foster parent and foster child’s bills of rights into law; and moving children in foster care and many of those adopted from foster care under a managed care organization for their health care.

The 2018 founding of the WV Foster Adoptive & Kinship Parents Network has also helped to organize parents, advocate for changes to improve child welfare, and provide peer support and training for people impacted by the child welfare system.

Looking ahead to 2022, there are several new things on the horizon:

The Legislature’s Child Welfare Caucus has been discussing the possibility of a bill related to enhancing publicly available data regarding children and families involved in the child welfare system.

Many states share copious amounts of information about their child welfare systems, including things like how far children are placed from their homes on average; how long children are in care before going home, aging out, or finding a permanent family; reasons children came into foster care; and workers’ caseload sizes.

More publicly available data will help strengthen the system, increase transparency and drive accountability. Data sharing is an expression of values and I hope there will be a collaborative process that engages all stakeholders to determine shared values and goals that drive decisions and information sharing in our child welfare system. There may also be additional legislation aimed at addressing other challenges in the system.

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The WV Foster Adoptive & Kinship Parents Network will expand peer-led support groups for parents, as well as hire regional peer advocates to provide 1:1 support for families. These efforts are made possible in part by grants from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation.

In addition, we will pilot a peer mentorship program in Wood County, thanks to a generous grant from the Bernard McDonough Foundation. Of course, we will continue to help families involved in the child welfare system raise their voices and be part of making positive change. Watch for announcements about our virtual conference in the spring.

During the 2021 legislative session, the Department of Health and Human Resources announced its Bureau for Children and Families (BCF) would become two new bureaus — the Bureau for Social Services and the Bureau for Family Assistance and Support. In 2022, we will see this change begin to come to fruition in practice. Once roles and responsibilities are shifted within the new structure, we will be able to see and begin to evaluate the outcomes and the impact of this change on the ways that child welfare activities are carried out.

Legislation was introduced in 2021 to create a new office to oversee quality assurance for child welfare and children’s behavioral health programs. This legislation was not completed, but DHHR has created the office and is in the process of hiring a director of the Office of Quality Assurance for Children’s Programs. According to that job announcement, this office will promote a culture of continuous self-monitoring across DHHR and provider networks by monitoring and reporting on several indicators and outcomes.

DHHR has completed a study of the Child Protective Services (CPS) workforce and there may be some legislation and policy changes designed to help address workforce shortages, including caseloads and other factors that make CPS jobs challenging.

DHHR has announced it will launch a new program called Treatment Homes that seeks to move children in foster care from residential facilities to foster homes by enrolling children in the Children with Serious Emotional Disorders Medicaid waiver program and providing additional training for families recruited specifically to care for children leaving facilities. This program is still in development but may be launched in 2022.

I hope that in 2022 we will see more engagement between policymakers, service providers and impacted families; that youth, parents and caregivers of all types will be given an authentic voice and valued for the experience and wisdom they bring to the discussion. I hope that greater collaboration among all stakeholders will lead to increased transparency and accountability based on shared goals and values, ultimately ushering in a more effective, cooperative, and supportive system that truly improves the well-being of West Virginia children and families.

Marissa Sanders is a foster adoptive parent and Executive Director of the WV Foster Adoptive & Kinship Parents Network, a nonprofit startup working to support caregivers through peer support and advocacy. She can be reached at

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