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EDITORIAL: The foster care ‘avalanche’ is coming

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

January 17, 2023

How many foster kids do we have in West Virginia?

During the State of the State address last week, Governor Jim Justice said, “In this state, we’ve got plus or minus 1,000 foster kids, don’t we.” 

Delegate Kayla Young responded on social media the next day by saying, “Plus or minus 1,000 foster kids in West Virginia is way off. I don’t know where his number came from.” 

The Facts

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR), an executive agency that reports directly to the governor via Interim Cabinet Secretary Dr. Jeffrey Coben, there are 6,151 children in foster care in West Virginia as of January 12, 2023. 

Over the past five years, the number of children in foster care ranged from 6,000-7,000, according to published reports from DHHR. 

Later in his speech to legislators, Justice went on to say, “I’m challenging you right now. Find a way. Find a way to incentivize families to give these children a chance. A chance. They need it literally. I tell people all the time.” 

Foster Care Legislation

The legislators who comprised his audience that night have introduced two bills aimed at assisting foster families so far this year. 

HB2538 sponsored by Delegate Amy Summers, Chair of the House Health Committee, seeks to “develop an online portal to support foster placements and kinship placements with the specific needs for their foster children.” 

HB2428 sponsored by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach is a comprehensive foster care reform bill that seeks to expand the online foster care data dashboard, develop a portal for foster placements, provide pay raises to social services employees who care for foster children, require judges to schedule multidisciplinary team meetings, and clarifying that the foster care ombudsman may not be compelled to testify about casing involving their official duties. 

Last year, the only bill involving foster care died on the final day of session. 

If our leaders continue to downplay the number of children in foster care and fail to take meaningful action, we will lose generations. 

Foster Care Affects Us All

We are talking about 6,151 lives. Their lives are interconnected with thousands more. 

Jeremiah Samples, a former Deputy Secretary at DHHR, recently reported on the issue noting that foster children are more likely to face trauma and exhibit dangerous behaviors in life. “You are 242% more likely to smoke,” Samples said. “357% more likely to develop depression, 1,525% more likely to commit suicide, 1,133% more likely to use intravenous drugs.” 

Samples also cited statistics showing that when foster children leave the system, 1 in 10 will go to college, 3 in 10 will go to jail, 3 in 10 will be homeless, and 3 in 10 will have a child. 

We all collectively pay for that. Financially, socially, and morally. 

For Samples, these statistics paint a grim picture. “When you have a significant number of children in foster care…a significant number that transition out of our foster care system into adulthood…and then those children have children. Well, what’s likely to happen there? We continue the problem, except that it’s not just cyclical; it’s an avalanche. It’s a snowball rolling down a mountain.” 

The avalanche is approaching. Will our elected leaders downplay the problem? Will they ignore it altogether? Or will they act to save our most vulnerable children? 

They have 52 days to show us. 


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