Many of our woes in West Virginia are blamed on the drug abuse crisis, and quite rightly so. But one of the attorneys involved in a lawsuit over the state’s foster care system for children insists shortcomings there existed long before substance addiction reared its ugly head.
A few weeks ago, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services and various state officials. It accuses them of not doing enough for foster children. The suit was brought by two advocacy organizations and a Charleston law firm.
“A lot of individuals are going to point to the opioid crisis and say, ‘Well, everybody got caught off guard by that. … but this system was at a breaking point before the opioid crisis,” commented one of the attorneys involved, Rich Walters, to MetroNews.
Perhaps so, but the drug abuse epidemic has stretched the resources of both state and many local governments. It also has resulted in an influx of children into the foster care system. Five years ago, there were 4,721 children in foster care in the Mountain State. By last month, the number had exploded to 6,996.
Both the DHHR and the state Legislature have been taking steps to improve foster care, and they predate the lawsuit. The DHHR has added caseworkers and has established an ombudsman office to hear and deal with complaints about foster care. Earlier this year, lawmakers took action to improve the system, through House Bill 2010.
More reforms are being considered, House of Delegates Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, commented a few days ago. She noted legislators are seeking public input, including complaints, about the system through an online survey (wvfosterparents.org/survey, available until Nov. 18).
It is not that we West Virginians, including our public officials, do not care about children who require foster care.
Still, it is likely the lawsuit will proceed, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. If it identifies weaknesses about which effective action can be taken, it will have done a service.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and the DHHR should do all in their power to provide the help those 6,996 children need — and pray the number of them does not continue going up.