Daunting Season Ahead for Foster Children, Residents Take Action

With the upcoming holidays and the official takeover of a managed care organization, many children in foster care will face some difficulties this winter, but residents are showing their support online. 

According to an article by Dr. John N. DeGarmo, Ed.D. for Foster Focus, a magazine devoted to covering the foster care, the holidays can be a season especially difficult for foster children when it comes to settling in to a new home and environment. 

With the upcoming holidays such as Chanukah/Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years, many children in the system may feel guilt associated with enjoying the festivities without their birth parents.

That means that this issue as the potential to affect the nearly 7,000 children currently in West Virginia’s foster care system.

One organization, Boxes of Purpose, is working to provide foster children in the state with fun Christmas gifts to open. Many residents on social media have been vocal about this program and others similar.

Also on the horizon for Jan. 01, is the MCO takeover. Earlier this month, Aetna Better Health was officially chosen by the WV DHHR as the managed care organization that will take over management of the foster care system.

DHHR Press Release

Basically, this means is that rather than the system being run by the state government, it will now be in the hands of a private company. 

A caseworker from the DHHR will still be the primary point of contact for families in the system–the private provider will only serve as an additional resource for them.

Over the last couple of months, many residents have had mixed feelings about this new shift.

However, there is no doubt that the DHHR has struggled to meet the needs of the foster children and families within the state. Just this fall, they got handed a lawsuit claiming that they did not have the proper amount of staff to help the number of children in their care.

One quote from an article by Brittany Patterson from WV Public Broadcasting really exemplifies how tight for resources the state is:

“Dianna Dickins, regional supervisor for Child Protective Services in Monongalia County, said she understood frustrations with CPS. She said the agency in Monongalia County is fully-staffed for the first time in three years, however case workers still have, on average, 45 cases each at one time.”

From WV Public Broadcasting

The limited number of DHHR facilities in the state could also make it difficult for some families living in more rural portions of the state to access.

In the map above you can see (in red) the DHHR outlets in the state of West Virginia. Three counties, indicated as a yellow house, located in Logan County, Parkersburg and Woodrow County, have been routed to various facilities to show the amount of time some families have to travel to get access to resources.

With thousands of our residents being greatly affected in the coming weeks, its important to continue to utilize online conversation to better help those who need it within our state.

New Survey to Help Improve Foster Care System in WV

The West Virginia Foster, Adoptive, & Kinship Parents Network released a survey recently for all foster parents in partnership with Marshall University and WV’s DHHR– but are they leaving out an important voice?

With the lawsuit against the DHHR from earlier this month still gaining traction online, it comes as no surprise that many kinship caregivers and foster parents have some issues with the current state of the system. 

In recognition of this, the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive, & Kinship Parents Network, an organization that advocates on behalf of foster families across the state, developed a survey for kinship caregivers and foster parents to discuss where they feel the system is effective or lacking.

According to an article published by the Herald Dispatch by Taylor Stuck, the results will be analyzed by West Virginia Legislature and officials in the judicial system, as well as others involved with child welfare.

However, the survey leaves out some important voices such as the feelings of CPS workers, those at the DHHR, and as pointed out by one Twitter user, the children themselves. 

For now, I think that focusing on the perspective of parents could be very useful for the state of West Virginia, as they continue to have limited resources to work with. Below is a map of all of the recourse centers, non-profits, group homes, and other services for foster parents in WV. 

Community responds to opinion piece

Kelli Caseman created a Facebook post about her piece she co-wrote for the Charleston Gazette– and it was well received.

Just a few days ago, Caseman , who is the director of Child’s Health at West Virginians for Affordable Heath Care, and Dr. Laure Marino, a nurse practitioner in the state, wrote an opinion piece on the many struggles the youth in WV is facing.

Caseman took to Facebook to discuss the difficultly the piece took to write.

Image via Facebook

Below I will show some of the comments the post received.

This goes to show that we live in a time where we can connect to handfuls, hundreds and even thousands of people all at once via the internet. With that being the case, we can use it to our advantage to have community based conversations on issues that matter, as shown above.

Advocates speak out on the “dark story” for the youth in WV.

Two prominent child welfare advocates spoke out yesterday in an opinion piece for the Charleston Gazette on child care in WV. 

Kelli Caseman, is the director of Child Health at the non-profit organization, West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, and Laure Marino is a nurse practitioner here in WV. 

In the piece they outlined some of the main issues for children in the state such as, limited resources, parental drug use and, overall, struggling with addiction in many shapes and forms. 

Here is a snippet from the piece:

“Statistics in the news tell a dark story: According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, there are over 7,000 kids in foster care in our state, over 10,000 of West Virginia’s public school students are homeless, and in 2018, 482 kids in state custody ran away — some of them, more than once. Since 2013, there has been a 67 percent increase in the number of children in state custody, compared to an 11 percent increase nationally.”

This piece really exemplifies all of the things that have been circulating lately– and was a refreshing, provocative take on the issue that reporters and journalists can’t get away with. We can only hope that this gain traction with the masses in West Virginia.

Regarding the 7,000 children in foster care in West Virginia, they also detailed in the piece that this number will only continue to grow unless the issues heavily impacting it are properly addressed and effective resources are provided.

Both Caseman and Marino have been very vocal on Twitter to issues surrounding child-welfare and the foster care system in WV. 

Amidst this opinion piece, West Virginia’s DHHR is still facing a lawsuit regarding the poor management of the foster care system, naming Gov. Jim Justice, DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch, DHHR Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples, and DHHR Commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families Linda Watts as defendants. It will be interesting to see how the community takes this information in the coming weeks.

Gov. Jim Justice img via Flickr-public domain

Decline in number of clients for foster care in September

The Foster Care Placements Report in WV is out for the month of September and it reveals that the total number of clients have dipped since this summer.

The total number of clients for September was 6,895, with 6,440 being in-state clients. This is opposed to the 7,175 total number of clients in May, with 6,710 being in-state clients, according to WV’s DHHR.

Image via WV DHHR

The winter season, along with the multiple holidays that come with it, bring forth many issues that foster care has to face. As detailed in my last post this can vary from seasonal affective disorder to guilt associated with holidays not including birth parents.

Another issue that is detailed in the latest DHHR report is the decline in the total number of foster placement clients.

Image via WV DHHR

The season can be a busy one, and with that comes a lessened emphasis on the system as a whole.

It is crucial that during this time of year, many resources are still put toward programs that support the system, such as group foster residential facilities, specialized foster care agencies, foster parents and independent living services for those who are aging out of foster care.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Foster Care Children

With the holiday season among us, it’s important to recognize the upcoming occurrence of seasonal affective disorder, especially when it comes to foster children.

According to Mission West Virginia, suicide awareness within the foster care system is crucial for families. Signs to look out for include sucide threats, acts of depression, such as change in hygiene habits and withdrawing from friends and family.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, in youth ages 10-24, suicide is now the second leading cause of death.

Image via the CDC

As discussed in my previous post, holidays can be extremely difficult for foster care children, however this difficulty would only increase with those suffering with seasonal affective disorder.

It’s important that as a community, we continue to tear down the stigma attached to mental health and depression so that we can better improve how we deal with the issue at hand.

WV Foster Care Braces for Holiday Season

If you have been on the internet during the last couple of weeks, its likely you have seen the phrase, “Happy Hallowthanksmas.” The holiday season is coming in hot– but how does that impact the 7,000 children in the foster care system in WV. 

Image via Imgflip

Amidst the business of this season, it can be easy to forget about some of the prominent issues of our region. 

According to an article by Dr. John N. DeGarmo, Ed.D. for Foster Focus, a magazine devoted to covering the foster care, the holidays can be a season especially difficult for foster children when it comes to settling in to a new home and environment. 

“During this time of Holiday Cheer, many foster children are faced with the realization that they will not be “home for the holidays,” so to speak, with their biological family members. When they wake up Christmas morning, and are surrounded by people who just may be strangers to them, strangers who are laughing and having fun, it can be a very difficult time for them, indeed.”

Dr. John N. DeGarmo, Ed.D.

With the upcoming holidays, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, many children also feel guilt associated with enjoying the festivities without their birth parents, according to the article. 

With this in mind, imagine how the holiday season goes for those children who are in a state like WV where we are extremely understaffed and have a limited number of resources within the field. 

One way to give back this season is through KVC West Virginia, a non-profit organization that is seeking Holiday Heroes. You just fill out their Holiday Hero signup form and you will receive a child’s wish list. 

If you do not have extra cash to spend this holiday season, another way to give back is through AmazonSmile. It is the same website as Amazon, except it allows for a certain amount of your proceeds to go to an organization of your choosing. You can select KVC Behavioral Healthcare West Virginia as your charitable organization.

The Intertwining of N.A.S and the WV Foster Care System

The amount of babies being born in WV with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is greatly impacting the foster care system and the parents within it–they need help.

When prenatal expose to drugs is discontinued at birth a withdrawal syndrome occurs known as NAS or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, according to WV’s Department of Health and Human Resources.

Right now, 50 out of every 1,000 babies being born in WV are born with NAS, resulting in many of them entering the foster care system.

NAS is an issue that is nationwide right now, as it is another consequence from the opioid crisis. However, just as the crisis touched so many in WV especially, so has the high number of babies being born drug-dependent.

One thing that can be particularly difficult for the issue of providing homes for NAS babies in foster care is the training that is involved on how to meet the babies needs.

Here is a quote from Roxy Todd’s article on WV Public Broadcasting, “W.Va.’s Foster Parents Say They Need More Support”:

Marissa Sanders, who runs the Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network, an advocacy group for foster families in West Virginia, said the people who often need the most support are those who’ve taken in a grandchild or a neighbor. These foster parents are called “kinship parents.”

From WV Public Broadcasting

For kinship parents, access to training and support can be even more limiting in the state of West Virginia. Resources are already scarce for those who are apart of government run programs. As a state we need to recognize all of stakeholders in some of our most prominent issues, such as the foster care system and babies born with NAS, in order to properly combat them.

Image from Fife Flickr

DHHR gets handed a lawsuit, but is the state of foster care their fault?

Twelve children in WV’s foster care system filed a lawsuit against the Department of Human Resources, as well as the governor and other state officials; residents don’t know who to blame. 

Advocates including, A Better Childhood, law firm Shaffer and Shaffer and Disability Rights of West Virginia, filed a federal class action lawsuit on Tuesday, as they felt the DHHR’s handling of the system was ineffective.

Case 3:19-cv-00710 Document 1 Filed 09/30/19 Page 3 from WOAY TV

One claim in the lawsuit, according to Erin Beck of the Register-Herald, was that the root of the problem was not the drug epidemic in WV, but rather just put more pressure on the already fractured system.

“We’re not seeking money damages,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood. “We’re seeking for things to change going forward – that the government must take care of these kids.”

From the Register-Herald

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Facebook group, WV CPS Corruption Exposed, expressed their support. 

However, not all community members agree with this notion. One WV resident took to Facebook to argue that WV’s DHHR and other state officials are not responsible for all of the repercussions of the opioid crisis.

Everybody and their aunt knows by now that the drug epidemic in WV has had consequences in many different forms for the region. WV simply has not had the resources to fully tackle the issue that has spun out of control since 2015.

Blue: “Drug Epidemic” Red: “WV Foster Care” Yellow: “Opioid Overdose”

As you can see from the chart above from google trends, the conversation and related incidents among the drug epidemic and WV foster care have always gone hand in hand. I do not see how a federal lawsuit will help with resolving the complexity of the issue.

Add ‘more than 650 runaways’ to list of issues with WV’s foster care system

Arguably one of the most disturbing things revealed in WV news this week was the fact that there were almost 800 runaways in the foster care system during 2018.

– Although considering the current state of WV, don’t quote me on that.

State lawmakers learned on Tuesday that there were 791 runaways, and 205 were reported as long-term runaways, according to Jeff Jenkins in his article “DHHR official says foster care children runaway numbers ‘alarming.’”

According to the DHHR report, as of Sep. 12, there are currently 72 active runaways. A buzz began on Twitter amidst the news.

One person actually spoke out about their own experience as a runaway in the system, as the story began to gain traction.

There is something to her claims about an overwhelmed CPS. Take for example the following quote from an article by Brittany Patterson from WV Public Broadcasting:

“Dianna Dickins, regional supervisor for Child Protective Services in Monongalia County, said she understood frustrations with CPS. She said the agency in Monongalia County is fully-staffed for the first time in three years, however case workers still have, on average, 45 cases each at one time.”

This really exemplifies how tight recourses are for our foster care system.

The report also revealed that these numbers have been above 700 runaways since 2015, which begs the question ‘what is the DHHR (as well as other agencies and policy-workers) doing and why isn’t it working’?

It will be interesting to see what policy interventions are proposed during the winter legislation session concerning this issue and how the new MCO will handle it.