Foster Care: Improvements made, but are they enough?

Nearly 2 percent of the children in West Virginia — more than 6,800 of them — are in some form of foster care administered by the state. Are we doing enough for them?

A lawsuit filed against the state Department of Health and Human Resources last week argues we are not, to the point that court intervention is necessary for the youngsters’ welfare.

Filed in federal court, the lawsuit is on behalf of 12 children in the foster care system. It was initiated by a Charleston law firm, Disability Rights West Virginia and a national advocacy organization, A Better Childhood. It raises questions about institutionalized children, mental health services and whether the state has enough caseworkers to deal with the youngsters.

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch points out it may cost the state millions of dollars to deal with the lawsuit. That is money that could have been used to improve the lives of children in foster care, he notes.

At the same time, Crouch makes at least part of the plaintiffs’ case. In discussing the matter with a reporter at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, Crouch pointed out during the past year, the DHHR has added more than 50 Child Protective Services personnel. Even more are funded for the coming year. And, Crouch notes, salaries for CPS workers have been increased to attract and retain people in what is an incredibly frustrating, demanding job.

Crouch’s comments could be taken as an admission that in the past, state government has not done enough for at-risk children. At the same time, however, increased funding is a reflection of much higher need because of the drug abuse crisis that has fractured so many Mountain State families.

“We welcome the opportunity to make our case in court,” Crouch told The Herald-Dispatch. It appears it will come to that — a debate over whether the state is meeting what a federal court determines are the constitutional rights of foster children.

As always when our children are the issue, we West Virginians wish desperately we could afford to do more for all of them. But we are a poor state, unable to have many things we would like from our government.

We are trying to do better for foster children. There is no doubt about that. Perhaps the key question regarding the lawsuit is whether we are doing the best we can with what we have. It seems we are about to find out.


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