West Virginia finds itself in dire need of foster families as both the child welfare crisis and the pandemic continue to grow in the state.
According to westvirginia.kvc.org, more than 7,000 West Virginian youth were in foster care as of May 2020.
Andrea Graham Permanency Supervisor for the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia (CHS) shared the organization’s current situation.
“We need homes. The homes we do have, they’re busting at the seams. We don’t have the room and our current homes and are limited for what we do have.”
CHS currently serves Region 4 of West Virginia, which includes Wyoming, Summers, and Raleigh County. The organization has also had foster families from Fayette and Monroe counties in the past.
Graham shared that some homes in the state are housing the maximum number of six children.
“Some have six kids. Some have two. Some have one. It just depends on the availability of the home, if they have any biological children, and if they have enough space.”
“Right now, we have more referrals coming in than we have families,” shared CHS’s Regional Director Marilyn Pearce.
“Unfortunately, when you don’t have the ability to provide a family for a child, they sometimes stay in a hotel with a DHHR worker or in the DHHR office or sometimes emergency shelter care or group homes. If we don’t have families for children, they get placed in a higher level of care than they need and they’re getting shuffled from their county, their school and their family.”
According to Graham, the state is especially in desperate need of families that will take in older children and teenagers.
“A lot of families take children three and under. But we need homes for older kids and teenagers.”
Pearce says CHS is working to remove the stigma that comes from seeing an older child in foster care.
“Older children, and not just teens but 10-year-olds, whenever they are in base custody, removal doesn’t mean it’s their fault. Sometimes that’s when intervention occurs. People see 16 and 17-year-olds that need a family, and that doesn’t mean they are a bad kid; it truly means that they need a family. Foster care is not just for little kids; it’s for all children of all ages.”
Another problem CHS has been facing is placing children in homes during the pandemic.
Graham stated that, recently, older couples or individuals wishing to foster parent have asked to be placed on hold until the pandemic is over.
“Our state is in an ongoing welfare crisis and the pandemic has only intensified the crisis and the need for families.”
CHS is urging those in the community to consider becoming foster parents.
The only requirements that a potential foster parent must meet is that they must be 18 years of age, pass a background check, and have enough income to cover monthly expenses.
A foster parent can be married or single, they can own or rent a home, and they can be of any sexual orientation or religion.
“We are like a rainbow. Every person is different and unique, but they are still so beautiful,” Pearce shared.
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent can initiate the process by calling the Children’s Home Society’s office at 304-431-2424.
After taking a training course either virtually or in-person, the foster parents pass a background check, undergo CPS, state and federal interviews and participate in a home walkthrough with the agency.
From there, they will be placed with a child. Every foster family is also provided with a permanency social worker that is available at any time to make sure the families are fully supported and that the children are in good care.
“It might sound daunting and like it’s a long process; however, that is how we ensure that the families are fully prepared and know what they are getting into,” Pearce said.
“We have foster families everywhere. It doesn’t matter where they live; if they want to be a foster family, we are going to work with them. We are here. We want to help, and we want everyone to join our team. You just have to have the heart to do it.”
The Children’s Home Society is the oldest child welfare organization in the state and has been serving children in the state of West Virginia since 1896.