BECKLEY, W.Va. — A member of southern West Virginia’s House delegation has been taking preliminary steps to reform the state’s foster care program and to address what he believes are deficiencies in the way foster cases are adjudicated.
Del. Jeff Pack, R-Raleigh, said recent discussions with other Republican members have led to a mutual understanding that the current structure of the foster care system lacks coherence, and is in need of a fundamental overhaul.
“There’s seems to be unanimity, across the board, that we need to do something with our foster care system, and I think the way that that’s looking is that, perhaps, that’s going toward more of a managed care model than the model that we’re using at the moment,” he said. “There’s all of these different entities that function within it, and oftentimes it’s a case of the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
In particular, Pack said court decisions in foster care and custody-related cases too often are based on established precedent or on the recommendations of court-appointed supervisors, with little input from those who actually are caring for the children involved.
“Our foster parents need a louder voice in what’s going on because, oftentimes, these kids are going through this legal process that’s being adjudicated, and nobody ever asks the foster parent ‘You’re with this kid all the time. Can you tell us a little bit about it?’ Instead, it’s case workers and guardians ad litem and a judge and folks who don’t necessarily deal with the kid on a daily basis who are making decisions about the kid’s future, and I don’t think that’s in the kid’s best interests,” said Pack.
Pack also expressed concern about the increasing number of grandparents who are taking on parental responsibilities, in part because of drug-related legal troubles that often force parents to relinquish custody or supervision of children.
“If you look around our communities, oftentimes there are grandparents or great-grandparents raising kids, and that’s admirable. But oftentimes you have to wonder, are they — at that age — are they equipped to handle youngsters? And I’m not suggesting that you (remove children from a grandparents home) but I’m suggesting that you help. The state can do more for more these folks that are trying to step up and do the right thing,” said Pack.
According to the latest statistics compiled by AdoptUsKids.org, there were more than 6,000 children in foster care in West Virginia in 2018. A recent report from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources indicated that nearly 6 percent of such children are being housed out-of-state, mostly in group homes.