CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “A step in the right direction for our kids” is how the deputy secretary for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources sees the new foster care law that’s in the process of being implemented statewide.

“We have a crisis in the state,” said Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples.

Jeremiah Samples

To address that crisis, HB 2010 includes nine major provisions dealing with different areas of child welfare.

In it is a study of kinship placements for kids, the creation of a foster care ombudsman, allowances for performance-based contracting with child placement agencies and implementation of managed care.

“Each of the major components of this bill is going to have a significant impact in and of its own way, but I think the managed care piece is the most broad-based — the one that people will see the most,” Samples said.

Under the law, the managed care portion of the legislation, operating under an outside organization, must be in place by Jan. 1, 2020.

“We would basically work back from that date and begin our processes of further engaging the public, engaging our federal partners and then putting out procurement for those services to implement the contract and the programs as stipulated by the Legislature,” he explained.

With coordination under managed care, “It will give foster families some support where they may now find themselves on an island not really sure where to find the most appropriate services for a foster child that’s placed with them.”

In addition to help the Mountain State’s kids and foster families, Samples said the new law would address heavy, growing workloads on Child Protective Services and other child welfare workers.

In many cases, Samples said those state employees are “totally overwhelmed.”

Per capita, West Virginia leads the U.S. when it comes to the number of children in foster care, according to DHHR.

State officials have said about 7,000 children are now in foster care, kinship care or state custody. Since 2014, those numbers have increased by 67 percent largely due to the opioid epidemic.

The new law extends the time foster care certification is authorized and mandates annual home safety assessments.

It prohibits the termination of parental rights solely based upon participation in a medically-assisted treatment program and blocks placements of foster children in out-of-state facilities with some exceptions.

DHHR work on provisions in the law started before its passage during the 2019 Regular Legislative Session.

The law took effect in March.

“This is not the single solution, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Samples.

“Now we need to successfully implement what was in the bill and continue to work towards other solutions that will improve our child welfare system.

Other issues that need to be addressed in the future, in his view, include action on the results of the kinship study in this law, a comprehensive look at risks to children who run away from homes and an easing of regulatory burdens on West Virginia’s foster families.