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Area states working on foster care laws

January 2, 2019

HUNTINGTON — As the nation prepares to change how it provides child welfare services thanks to a change in federal law, states are also working to change their own laws on how they serve the 439,020 youth in foster care in America.

In West Virginia, almost 7,000 children are in the care of the state, according to the latest data from the Department of Health and Human Resources. Ten years ago, just over 4,000 youth were in foster care in West Virginia, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Social Change.

Across the river, Kentucky has about 10,000 youth in care and Ohio has about 16,000. Nationally, the number of children in foster care has risen for the past five years.

The opioid epidemic has fueled the surge of children in foster care across the nation, but Beau Necco, CEO of Necco, which facilitates foster and adoptions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia, said that surge is leveling off somewhat.

“Relief is coming,” Necco said, referencing the Family First Prevention Services Act, which Congress passed in February as part of the budget bill. The act changes how child welfare is funded, allowing for more preventative services to help keep children in their homes, like providing substance use disorder treatment to parents.

The bill shifts funding away from group home settings, only providing for a few specific populations of youth. It goes into effect in October.

The majority of youth in West Virginia’s foster care system are placed with relatives, known as kinship care, while about 24 percent are in group homes and other congregate care settings. West Virginia has seen an 11 percent decrease in youth in congregate care since 2012, according to the Chronicle of Social Change data.

In Kentucky and Ohio, however, the reliance on congregate care has increased. From 2012 to 2016, Ohio saw an increase of 27 percent and Kentucky saw a 30 percent increase.

With those numbers in mind, the upcoming changes and the fact that as children in foster care are adopted by their foster families, a foster family disappears, the need for foster parents continues to grow.

Necco said there is good news. Earlier this year, Kentucky’s Legislature passed a sweeping child welfare reform bill. The bill’s provisions include removing some regulations that created barriers for potential foster parents and creating a kinship care program.

Necco said West Virginia legislators are working on a similar bill to be introduced in the 2019 session beginning in January.

“There is too much waiting in foster care,” Necco said. “There are plenty of people willing — there’s no lack of compassion.”

Necco said Kentucky is working to improve upon its bill and that West Virginia wants its bill to be even better.

“It’s refreshing to have people working proactively on child welfare,” he said.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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