CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County is on track to have 700 children removed from their parents homes this year–another sign that the battle against the opioid crisis is far from over.
The removals come through abuse and neglect cases that are filed through the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office after investigations are done Child Protective Services from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The number of removals are staggering, Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Ariana Kincaid told MetroNews Friday not long after the 470th child of the year had been ordered removed.
“Looking at the numbers and seeing what’s going on it’s definitely the opioid crisis,” Kincaid said.
She’s been on the job for more than 14 years and remembers Dec. 29, 2003 when the 110th child of that year was ordered removed. It’s more than six times that now.
“I remember we hit 200 removed with the meth crisis that was the first big bump that we saw,” Kincaid said.
From there the numbers went to approximately 300 in 2015, 656 children in 2016, the largest number of removals on record, followed by a slight dip last year to the upper 500s before this year’s increase and projected 700 removals by the end of the calendar year.
Kincaid said the numbers do not include the number of children whose grandparents or other family members or friends of the family have taken the children in without state involvement or through Family Court.
Kincaid said it comes down to people not knowing how to take care of their kids and not having the ability to do so.
Where do the removed children go?
“Many of them are in foster care. Some are in family placements. Others have medical or developmental needs that require placement in a facility. Some of them are placed in shelters because we don’t have enough foster homes for every child that is taken–that is a huge need right now,” Kincaid said.
The state has a lot of efforts underway to battle the opioid crisis but the removal of thousands of children a year from unfit parents is something that will likely impact the state for years to come.
“I would hope that we would be able to get these kids the services they need so that they don’t repeat the process that they are going through right now. So they are able to turn things around for the children they have in the future but I don’t know if we are equipped for this many,” she said.
Kanawha, as the most populated county, leads the state in child and abuse cases but other counties like Boone, Raleigh and Greenbrier have seen an increase in removals. The Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office has four full-time assistant prosecutors who work solely on abuse and neglect cases. Kincaid said they average four to five hearings a day before the county’s circuit judges. A judge’s decision to terminate the rights of a parent comes only after a trial to determine if abuse and neglect occurred. Improvement plans can be agreed to that would extend the process.
“We are in court so frequently that it’s difficult to make it into the office to file the petitions sometimes because we are constantly in court dealing with this on a daily basis,” Kincaid said. “I’m not complaining. I’m glad to do work. I feel like it’s a calling but it is sometimes quite overwhelming.”