Drug epidemic puts more West Virginia kids into foster care; ‘It is getting worse,’ agency official says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dec. 31 will mark one year since a Putnam County couple’s foster child was declared drug-free for the first time in his entire life.

“It’s just been a roller coaster ride,” said Chris Crytzer, a nurse and resident of Hurricane.

“We’ve got a child who we can really make a difference in his life and I think we just cling to that.”

Crytzer and his wife, Mary, a mathematics instructor at Marshall University, will find out in the coming months if they’ll be able to adopt the boy they first met at age 10 months.

Now two years old, the boy is free of the drugs he was addicted to at birth.

“He had been in the hospital for life and never got to leave until he finally came to our house,” said Crytzer.

He’s one of those on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic as addicted parents and other family members along with deaths of parents from drug overdoses push more and more kids into foster care.

New data out this week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed 92,000 children entered the foster care system nationally in 2016 because of parental drug usage which, the Washington Post reported, was the largest number in upwards of 30 years.

West Virginia was among three states with the greatest increases in foster care kids during a one year period, according to the report.

“The epidemic is really affecting all our communities — our children, our youth and our families in West Virginia — and it is getting worse,” said Angie Hamilton, executive director of Pressley Ridge West Virginia and Virginia.

Her agency operates in six states total and is among those receiving regular referrals for potential foster care placements from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Pressley Ridge utilizes a Treatment Foster Care (TFC) model in which foster parents undergo advanced clinical and technical training and have support from the agency to best serve the young people placed in their homes.

“We want to hear their story. We want to know what experiences they have undergone in their home life. We want to engage with their families if we can,” Hamilton said.

“If we can engage with those families and help connect them to resources and programs and help them to achieve stability, it only helps our kids as well.”

As of January 2017, there were approximately 5,040 children in foster care in West Virginia, according to state records.

Crytzer is prohibited from identifying his foster son, who is one of them, beyond his age.

The first time he saw the boy, “When we walked in the room there were a lot of machines and it was overwhelming at first,” he said. “My wife and I both were kind of, like, ‘We don’t know if we can handle all of this.'”

At first, the boy could not smile or make eye contact.

His medical needs were and remain extensive and required extra training for the Crytzers, in addition to the 12 unit Pressley Ridge training protocol.

Home health workers stay with the boy during the day as part of a larger team that includes clinical support staff.

The boy is now walking with a walker and, in this year’s family picture, he “has a huge smile,” Crytzer said. “As he grows and grows and grows, it’s just really neat to see it.”

In addition to the toddler, the Crytzers have three biological children, ages five, three and 11 months.

“They know that we’re doing this to help him and get him things that he wouldn’t have had if he would have stayed with his parents,” Crytzer said. “I think it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives so far.”

Pressley Ridge currently has more than 60 treatment foster parents like the Crytzers throughout West Virginia but more are needed, Hamilton said.

“It is a growing need in West Virginia. We have kids coming into care daily,” Hamilton told MetroNews of what is now a continual foster parent recruitment process.

“We receive a number of referrals weekly for kids needing the Treatment Foster Care as an out-of-home intervention due to the drug epidemic that’s pushing these numbers up, so we are always recruiting families.”

Crytzer said getting started in the process toward foster parenting was the hardest part for his family.

“Once you see the kids, all you want to do is help. You want to do what you can for them. I think that’s the easy part,” he said.

More information on foster parenting through Pressley Ridge is available HERE or by calling the Raleigh County office in Crab Orchard at 304-252-1106.

“We are always looking for parents that will step up and take this challenge and be willing to make a difference in the lives of kids in our own communities here in West Virginia,” Hamilton said.

“This is something that is going to, I believe, continue to be a need well into the future.”

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