West Virginia Senate passes foster care bill with payment raises
UPDATE (March 9):
Foster parents who adopt children with special needs may soon get more money under a wide-ranging proposal passed Friday by the West Virginia Senate to reduce the state's overburdened foster system.
Senators voted unanimously to approve the proposal. It now moves back to the House of Delegates for that chamber to approve the Senate's amendments.
The measure directs state officials to expand a tiered system that would give higher payments to people who take in children with emotional, behavioral or intellectual problems. It sets aside $16.9 million for the payment system.
“There are some children for whom it is very hard to find foster parents,” said Republican Sen. Charles Trump, adding “lets spend more money to help a family who might be willing to take one or two with severe problems.”
The tiered system would have to be up and running by July 2021. Child placing agencies would also get $1,000 every time they finalize an adoption.
A previous version of the bill in the House would have raised payments to foster parents to at least $900 across the board. The Senate changed the bill to the tiered system.
The bill also contains a foster care bill of rights for both children and parents. At least 15 states have enacted bills establishing a foster children's bill of rights and 17 have foster parent bill of rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The measure states that children are entitled to live in a safe environment, free of sexual and physical abuse, with adequate and healthy food. Foster parents would be entitled to receive training and have contact with the child placing agency and know about the child's behavior, health and needs before the child is adopted.
"We've done something very good here. It's such a great necessity. It's been many years and coming," said Sen. Rollan Roberts, a Raleigh Republican.
West Virginia's foster care ranks have dramatically swelled during the national opioid epidemic. As of February, there were 7151 children in the system, compared with 4,254 in 2015, according to state records.
The legislative session ended Saturday.
Foster parents may soon get more money for adopting children under a measure passed by the House of Delegates Tuesday aimed at alleviating West Virginia's overburdened foster care system.
Delegates voted 96-1 to approve the bill, with Republican Del. Pat McGeehan as the lone no vote after he was told the measure would cost the state around $17 million.
“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,” said Del. Jason Barrett, a Berkeley County Democrat. “With these necessary increases agencies will be able to recruit and retain more foster families."
The proposal, which now moves to the Senate, would give families at least $900 a month for each child adopted. Child placing agencies would also get $1,000 every time they finalize an adoption.
The bill also establishes a foster care bill of rights, which would ensure children and parents understand their rights in the state's foster system. At least 15 states have enacted bills establishing a foster children's bill of rights and 17 have foster parent bill of rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
West Virginia's bill of rights proposal includes guarantees that foster children live in safe settings, should be free of sexual abuse and attend school. Foster parents would be entitled to receive child care training and know a child's behavioral history prior to placement. The state's foster care ombudsman would be charged with investigating violations of the bill of rights.
Del. Daryl Cowles, a Morgan County Republican, said it's good to put such rights in state code.
"There's a level of support needed for foster children in this state and this goes a long way to saying we want to support those things," he said.
Records show more than 7,000 children in the state's foster care system as of January, a nearly 70% increase from 2015. Officials have blamed the national opioid crisis for the increase.