Education: Drug abuse putting strain on foster care

Declining enrollment in West Virginia public schools is a concern, as state school Superintendent Steve Paine pointed out earlier this month. Much more worrisome is another trend he pointed out.

Even as enrollment declined since 2000, the number of public school students in foster care nearly doubled, Paine told state Board of Education members.

In July, 6,940 Mountain State children were in foster care, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Think about that number: Nearly 2 percent of the children in our state are in foster care. Legislators are worried enough about the number that they receive monthly updates from the DHHR.

We all know why so many more children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care: drug abuse.

As Paine noted, children affected by the opioid epidemic, whether in foster care or not, are affected adversely in school. Many children still in their parents’ homes must cope with the emotional — and sometimes physical — side-effects of substance abuse by adults who are supposed to be caring for the youngsters.

Legislators reacted this year, through the much-debated education improvement law, to that challenge, among others.

As Paine said, “The amount of money that was put in there for social, emotional and mental health needs of children — $30 million — that’s phenomenal. That’s a real commitment to making sure that we address the needs of those kids.”

Perhaps most important, lawmakers authorized more funding for professionals such as psychologists who can give troubled children the help they need.

Obviously, ramping up initiatives in that regard cannot happen overnight. State and local officials should get the new assistance on line as swiftly as possible.

Many of our West Virginia children need help. Getting it to them ought to be a top priority.

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