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Foster care system needs resources for addicts’ children

January 6, 2019

It’s bad enough that West Virginia’s opioid epidemic has ruined the lives of thousands of adult addicts, but its effects filter down to the most vulnerable among us: their children.

For the past several years, a great deal of attention has been given to infants born to women who have used drugs. It has been a problem dealt with at Cabell Huntington Hospital for years. The establishment of Lily’s Place in Huntington brought the issue to the forefront both here and nationally, highlighted by a visit from First Lady Melania Trump in the autumn of 2017.

But what about older children? Numbers that came out recently show that they, too, are suffering from the addictions of their parents.

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, there were just over 4,000 children in foster care here, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Social Change.

Kentucky has about 10,000 children in foster care, while Ohio has about 16,000. Considering Kentucky has about 2.6 times as many people as West Virginia and Ohio has about six times as many, it is clear opioid addiction is harming families here at a much higher rate than it is in these two neighboring states.

Beau Necco, CEO of Necco, which facilitates foster care and adoptions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia, said the surge in children entering foster care is leveling off.

The Family First Prevention Services Act, which Congress passed in February as part of the budget bill, changes how child welfare is funded. It allows 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 I into effect in October.

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

“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.

Yes, it is. It’s bad enough what adults do to themselves. The cost to the public in terms of dealing with EMS calls and treatment is too high. On top of that, people must be careful to look for needles in parks, in public restrooms or anywhere a user may choose to shoot up.

That was the immediate problem that had to be dealt with first. The problem of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has been with us as long as people have used illegal drugs — or used legal drugs illegally. It is being addressed, but there is much to do in many communities. We are thankful people in Huntington got an early start on it.

The problem of children in foster care because of adults who use drugs has been an under-the-radar side effect of the opioid epidemic until recently. Now that attention is moving that way, federal authorities are addressing it. As Necco said, the West Virginia Legislature is working on it, too.

As the 2019 legislative session begins Wednesday, it’s something that needs to be addressed in a forceful, thoughtful, compassionate and bipartisan way. Legislators need to keep the politics and the grandstanding out of it and do what’s best for these children.

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