West Virginia has taken another step in the right direction in confronting a massive foster care problem by appointing Pamela M. Woodman-Kaehler as the state’s first foster care ombudsman.
The Department of Health and Human Resources position, a required part of a new law that will transfer aspects of foster care to a private management agency, is designed to advocate for the rights of both foster children and foster parents, and also participate in investigations regarding complaints of inaction or questionable actions by a managed care service or other social service agencies.
Creating and maintaining a statewide system for compiling and analyzing data from complaints and being aware of changes in foster care regulation on the local, state and federal level also are requirements of the position.
Why some of these things weren’t being done already might be part of the problem, but hopefully getting on track will lead toward positive and effective solutions.
As the Gazette-Mail has reported, about 7,000 children are in state custody at the moment, while only 1,300 foster-certified homes and roughly 2,500 certified kinship-care homes exist in West Virginia. Abuse, neglect and a near-generational disappearance of parents (either through death or incarceration) fueled by the drug crisis have all contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs. Throw in a system where caseworkers are stretched too thin and likely not paid a quarter of what they’re worth for everything they see and do, coupled with the bureaucracy of the entire process, and it becomes easy to see why the system would break down.
Bringing in privatized entities in the form of managed care was a controversial decision, although the Legislature seemed to think it was, at the very least, some form of action that might make a difference.
The ombudsman position carries hefty responsibilities, but they are crucial to understanding and working through the problems the state foster care system faces.
As for Woodman-Kaehler herself, the Harrison County Child Protective Services worker earned a solid endorsement form Sam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, who said he thinks highly of her work.
We wish her luck in this new, vital role. A lot of children are counting on this overhaul of the state’s foster care system. West Virginia can’t afford to let them down.