Randy Yohe Published

Foster Care Reform Bill Offers More Than Pay Raises

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A bill bringing major reforms to our foster care and social services system passed the West Virginia House of Delegates 99-1. Some key issues addressed in the bill will affect thousands of our most challenged children.

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, is a member of the Senate Health Committee, where House Bill 4344 now resides. There is currently a statewide 25 percent vacancy rate among Child Protective Services workers. In some counties, vacancies are up to 70 percent. Lindsay said that means the state’s 7,000 or so protected children are underserved at best.

“It keeps those folks from being as maybe as attentive as they would be otherwise,” Lindsay said. “Instead of having four kids to worry about or four families to worry about, maybe they have upwards of 10 or 15.”

The bill sponsor, Del. Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason County says 4344 provides a 15 percent pay raise in addition to the 5 percent raise proposed by Gov. Jim Justice. He said that should help to recruit and retain CPS and Adult Protective Services workers. Before the bill’s passage in the House last week, Pinson said an overhaul of the DHHR’s centralized intake system would put now splintered helping agencies on the same page.

“This will allow us to specifically identify where the needs in West Virginia are, and how to respond to those needs,” Pinson said.

The bill also creates a social services data dashboard for planning and preparation that would also be available to the public. This would be a website tool intended to better solve foster care and other CPS challenges.

“It’s all so they know what’s going on,” Lindsay said. “So they know who to contact because what we heard during the interim committee was that that just wasn’t taking place.”

After urging more reforms to the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline without using legislation, Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, plans to introduce a bill amendment that would require that every West Virginia medical provider’s call about possible abuse go directly to Child Protective Services and to local law enforcement.

Other amendments to encourage staff recruitment and retention may be introduced.