DHHR chief says feds talking about suing West Virginia over foster care crisis

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The federal government may soon file a lawsuit against West Virginia over its foster care crisis brought on by the opioid epidemic, according to state Department of Heath and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch.

WV DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch

Crouch told state lawmakers during a Monday meeting that he heard from the Department of Justice as recently as last Thursday.

“The Department of Justice is looking to sue West Virginia because we have too many children, adolescents especially, who are not in single family homes,” Crouch said.

Crouch said the state has run out of foster care parents.

“We don’t have any more foster parents,” he said. “We’re working hard to do that. We actually have a group that’s trying to find more individuals and get those individuals on line to take care of children but that’s slow.”

Back in February the DHHR reported there were 6,300 children in foster care. The numbers have grown dramatically in recent years in correspondence to the opioid crisis.

“They (DOJ) think we are falling behind in terms of that effort—so we have to find more foster families–we have to find more extended families that are willing to do this,” Crouch said.

He said the state probably already has more grandparents involved in foster care per capita than any other state.

Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, told Crouch he’s heard CPS workers are keeping some foster kids in hotels. Crouch didn’t deny it.

“We have CPS workers that have nowhere to take children sometimes,” Crouch said. “We have more children taken out of the home per capita than anybody. That’s a sad footnote for West Virginia. We’re trying to fix that.”

Sen. Ron Stollings (D-Boone, 7)

Crouch announced earlier this spring the addition of 52 CPS positions to “reinforce the front lines.”

Stollings said the crisis needs to be a top priority.

“I know we’re working on it. I just think we have to look at this as more of an emergency situation,” Stollings said.

Crouch said the state is working as hard as it can. He said getting the treatment residents need in the opioid crisis would greatly help.

“We have coaches taking kids home. We have a crisis–I certainly agree with that,” Crouch said.

Stollings suggested going back to orphanages but updated to meet the times. But Crouch said congregate housing would be a bad idea and not acceptable to the federal government.

Secretary Crouch released the following statement to MetroNews later Monday:

“The issue that the DOJ is most concerned about is the number of children in community residential facilities and the length of stay of children in congregate care.  That number has been increasing but that is primarily because of the drug problem.  We are working to keep these children in the home wherever possible through preventative wrap around services. We have returned over 1000 children to their home and community through the Department’s Safe at Home initiative, which we plan to expand in the future. There is more to do and we will do more.

“DHHR has done a good job of taking care of the children in our care. When a child is taken to a motel, or even the local DHHR office, it is oftentimes late at night or in the middle of the night and only because there is no immediate placement for these children. This is usually resolved within hours or within a day after a foster parent or relative is located to take care of these children.

“Our data shows that we have been doing a good job in placing children over the past few years. That does not always mean that the numbers go steadily upwards. There are ups and downs, but the trend is up right now, and we will continue those efforts.

“We want the same thing that the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants, and I have said that to them. We want a safe, healthy home for the children that we care for and we are going to provide that.

“We will continue to talk with the DOJ and will hopefully come to a consensus on how to proceed. This is a difficult issue for everyone. And the only thing that will truly resolve the increase in the number of children that need our help is to curb the drug epidemic.”

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