CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An effort is underway in West Virginia to help teenagers in foster care begin building a network of supporters that will help them when they age-out of the foster care system.

A handful of foster care teenagers will meet Saturday in Charleston for the West Virginia HERO workshop sponsored by Aetna Better Health of WV and KVC Health System. Aetna Medical Director Frank Angotti said many times 18-year-olds leave foster care but they don’t have the socialization network they need.

“They don’t have that social connectiveness. They don’t have that social support and that’s what this workshop does. It works to build up that support,” Angotti said.

Those teenagers participating are still a few years from aging-out of the system. Angotti said it’s time for them to begin thinking about it.

“Then they can build up that capacity early on with themselves and those in their past,” he said.

The workshop will be peer-lead by two trainers with Family Finding who are former foster care members.

KVC Health System Clinical Director Lori Cook said things many take for granted are difficult for older foster care children, especially when they begin to make decisions as young adults.

“There are times that are children in foster care don’t have anyone to ask. A lot of times things just aren’t getting done that need to be,” Cook said. “There are several different places for them to turn in the community for support but they just aren’t sure where to turn. This program will help them with that. So that they can be encouraged to know that ‘life is not over and that you have hopes and all of your dreams can come true’ and we are willing to help with that.”

Cook said they are expecting modest numbers Saturday but she predicts the numbers will grow at future workshops once the word spreads among the foster care network.

“To have some additional support and some networking and to have someone they can go to for encouragement is greatly needed in this area,” Cook said. “We are so excited of being able to partner with Aetna in this program.”

The number of children in foster care in West Virginia has grown significantly over the past several years because of the opioid epidemic. Having enough foster care families continues to be a concern. Cook said there’s also a need for older children to be fostered.

“The biggest need is finding foster families. We can find foster families for younger children but finding foster families for children that are getting ready to age-out, 14 and above, it’s very difficult to find anyone,” Cook said.

Saturday’s workshop will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Charleston Marriott.