Facing a Foster Care Crisis, One State Seeks to Increase Payments to Foster Parents

There were more than 7,000 children in West Virginia's foster care system as of January, the highest per-capita rate in the nation.

There were more than 7,000 children in West Virginia's foster care system as of January, the highest per-capita rate in the nation. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

A proposal in the West Virginia Legislature would increase monthly payments to foster parents, pay child-placing agencies for finalized adoptions and create a foster parent's bill of rights.

Hoping to generate more placements for foster children, legislators in West Virginia are considering a proposal that would increase payments to host families and outline specific rights for both foster parents and children.

The bill, approved 96-1 by the state’s House of Delegates, would increase minimum payments for foster families from $600 to $900 per month. To be eligible, families would need to be certified through the state Department of Health and Human Resources, meaning some blood relatives caring for children would not receive the increased stipend.

The state would also pay child-placing agencies a minimum of $1,000 for each finalized adoption.

Those measures would cost the state about $17 million, according to a fiscal analysis. That cost estimate led Del. Pat McGeehan, a Republican from Chester, to cast the lone 'no' vote.

But proponents said the increased expense was worth it when considering the scope of the West Virginia’s foster care crisis. There were 7,037 children in state custody as of January, the highest per-capita rate in the nation, according to state data. That’s believed to be largely due to the opioid crisis, as state officials have estimated that roughly 85% of children in custody have at least one parent who struggles with substance abuse.

“Great emphasis has been placed on the projected cost of this bill but we must acknowledge that this is an investment, an investment in West Virginia children,” Del. Jason Barrett, a Democrat from Martinsburg, said during floor debate. “With these necessary increases, agencies will be able to recruit and retain more foster families."

The legislation would also create a bill of rights for foster parents. These rights would include receiving state-provided training, getting assistance “when dealing with loss and separation when a child leaves the foster home,” receiving financial reimbursement by the 25th of each month and having an emergency contact available 24 hours a day.

The proposal also updates the state’s existing bill of rights for foster children, meant to acknowledge and support them as “active and participating members of this system.” Among other things, the bill of rights says that foster children are entitled to live in settings that are "safe, healthy and comfortable," as well as the least restrictive one possible. They should also be treated with respect and have access to medical and dental care. The state would also consider a child’s “ability to remain with siblings, religious preferences, and other factors which may be important to the child and family” when selecting a foster placement.

The state’s foster care ombudsman would investigate violations of either bill of rights, according to the proposal.

At least 15 states have enacted legislation creating a foster children’s bill of rights, and 17 states have created a version for foster families, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The bill moved to the Senate on Thursday and now awaits a hearing before the judiciary committee. 

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: Millions of Americans Rely on Crowdfunding for Medical Expenses