Child abuse and neglect is a crisis in West Virginia. That, in turn, has created a crisis in the state’s foster care system, as it grapples not only with the sheer number of children removed from homes, but being able to retain enough caseworkers and making sure the infrastructure of the system doesn’t collapse.
A lack of certified foster parents has always been a consistent problem, and now West Virginia is starting to lose some of those families because of frustration with the system, according to a report in the Gazette-Mail.
As Marissa Sanders, who leads the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Network, told reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisely, foster parents are feeling left out of the process, because they’re unable to get in touch with caseworkers and the services they need aren’t always available. Resources for the foster parents themselves, who might be feeling alone or overwhelmed in the challenge they’ve taken on, can be scarce.
So now, Sanders, along with Marshall University and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, is putting together a survey for feedback from foster parents.
It’s good to give the people who take in and try to provide a stable home environment to these children who have been traumatized a say in how the system is working. And, as Sanders put it, more satisfied foster/adoptive parents leads to more referrals for others to become foster families.
That’s what the state really needs. Yes, problems in the system are critical and must be addressed, but it would be much easier to address them if there were more people out there willing to take in these kids.
There are nearly 7,000 West Virginia children in the state’s care right now. Meanwhile, there are about 1,300 certified foster homes and nearly 2,500 homes that are or will soon be certified for kinship care.
Foster parenting isn’t for everyone, but it’s probably for more people than you might think. Of course, foster parents are paid to take care of children they take in, and they also have much more control over the process than you might initially think.
There are options to foster only or to foster with the goal of adoption. Certified homes can set age ranges for children and how many they’re willing to foster. The agencies will call and ask if you’re willing to foster children outside of these parameters, but the foster parent always has the right to say no, and that agency will immediately call someone else without any shaming or pushback.
Make no mistake, it is a commitment and a challenge. A lot of these children have been through hell and, precisely because they’re children, won’t necessarily know how to process it. That might manifest itself in behavior foster parents have a hard time dealing with, but it’s not the kids’ fault they’re in this mess. Any stability, whether it be in a foster home for two weeks or the rest of their lives as an adopted member of the family, can have a positive impact on their future. And these children could use a small well of positivity to draw from.
There are 11 foster agencies in the state that offer certification classes and will work with you in making a difference in a child’s life. Mission West Virginia, which provides resources and help for potential foster families, is a good place to start looking for information.
These children have often been failed by their families and the system. It’s up to the rest of West Virginia to step up and say they won’t be forgotten; they’ll be given a chance at a happy life. That’s worth thinking about.