CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill with big changes to West Virginia’s foster care system is headed for passage in the state Senate.
The bill will be up for a passage vote on Friday, the 59th day of the regular legislative session.
It creates a state foster care ombudsman. It extends the time foster care certification is authorized. It requires an annual home safety assessment. It prohibits the termination of parental rights when the parent is participating in a medically assisted treatment program.
And it also seeks to reduce the number of children placed in out-of-state treatment facilities, a longstanding issue for West Virginia’s system.
The most controversial aspect of the legislation, though, would open up the foster care population to a managed care organization.
Senator Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, offered an amendment Thursday that would have removed the entire section of the bill authorizing the move to managed care.
Senators wound up voting down the amendment.
“With regard to this bill, the way it’s been explained to the legislators is that it has to be MCOs. ‘We have to do MCOs or the whole system is going to blow up.’ There was never a discussion of ‘What about just putting more money into DHHR and recognizing there is a need for that money if for no other reason reason than that we’re suffering from the opioid crisis,'” Lindsay said.
The number of children in West Virginia’s foster care system has grown in correlation with the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the state. The Department of Health and Human Resources has reported about 7,000 children are now in foster care, kinship care or custody of the state.
Lindsay wanted to use the federal Family First Prevention Services Act to better cope with the problem. He also wanted to gather more information about how laws in place area already working or failing.
“I think the prudent course instead of going the amangered care route is to fully implement an audit of what this legislature has passed to see what has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Lindsay said.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Mike Maroney said the proposed amendment could have unintended consequences. He said the Department of Health and Human Resources is already on a timeline to comply with the Family First Prevention Services Act.
“I’d be very concerned it would further ignite this crisis,” Maroney said. “The intentions are good, but I think it would potentially hurt the intent of the bill. This amendment could hurt how quickly we can potentially get to some solution.”