On December 30, the Washington Post in an article, “We are just destroying these kids’: The foster children growing up inside detention centers,” documented some of the ongoing problems in the state of West Virginia and the tragedy of some youth ending up in the state’s juvenile justice system when they should have been in foster care. According to the Post article and statistics sighted in a recent class-action lawsuit “West Virginia has one of the highest rates of children living in congregate care — such as group homes, detention centers and residential treatment facilities — with 71 percent of foster children aged 12 to 17 in such institutions, according to the lawsuit.”

West Virginia is in the front lines of those states most severely hit by the opioid epidemic, and one of those areas of impact is child welfare. According to the press report, the head of West Virginia’s Department of Children, Youth and Families, “the shortage of foster parents trained to handle children with trauma and behavioral needs has led to more than 2,000 instances of foster children staying overnight in hotels and, in a few cases, in social worker offices in 2019.”

West Virginia recently reached an agreement with the US Justice Department after a suit was filed under the Obama Administration, arguing that too many children and youth entering through child welfare, behavioral health, or juvenile justice systems were being inappropriately placed into residential facilities some outside the state.

The Post article also refers to conditions in Oregon pointing out that since settling a 2016 lawsuit, Oregon has reduced the practice of housing children in offices and hotels. However, it still happens with a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Human Services, indicating that as many as ten children a night placed in hotels on a given night.

The report indicates that last year in the state of West Virginia, there were 791 reported runaway incidents in their foster care system, which had a population of about 6,800 children. Nationally and according to the official federal data through the AFCARS report, there were 4,734 runaways at the time of the September 30 reporting period. National runaway numbers are likely undercounted or inaccurate.

Since the Washington Post article Governor Jim Justice delivered his state of the state address last week, calling for more child welfare funding in a number of areas, including reducing caseworker caseloads. The Washington Post reported that as of December, West Virginia had 7,034 children in foster care and, according to the lawsuit filed against West Virginia, a 45 percent vacancy rate among caseworkers.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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