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Foster Care: We must do better for the children

Nearly 2 percent of children under 18 years of age in West Virginia are in foster care. That is roughly three times the national rate, and it explains a lot about failings within our state’s foster care system. Officials say the substance abuse epidemic and our continued flailing economy are among the factors contributing to such a need.

A lawsuit has been filed against the state Department of Health and Human Resources regarding how foster care is handled. Complaints ranging from how frequently we send children in the state’s custody to out-of-state facilities to the inadequate number of DHHR caseworkers are included in the suit.

Aware of shortcomings, the DHHR has established a new ombudsman’s office to handle complaints about foster care. “It’s going to be a busy office, for sure,” commented Pamela Woodman-Kaehler, named to head ombudsman efforts.

About 6,800 children — far more than the DHHR can handle adequately — are in the foster care system. Many of them are there because the courts have judged drug-dependent parents cannot care for the youngsters.

Here in West Virginia, our resources have simply been overcome by the need for foster care.

Clearly, state legislators need to find more money for the foster care system — somehow. Just as obviously, we need to find ways to do more with less.

A tall order? Absolutely — but these are our children, and we simply must do better for them.

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