Eric Douglas Published

Foster Care System Overhaul Bill Passes House 99-1

Jonathan Pinson - House of Delegates - Feb 18 2021.jpg

West Virginia’s foster care system has struggled to provide care for more than 7,000 children in the state. One of the biggest causes has been staffing shortages.

Now, House Bill 4344 is working its way through the legislature and, if passed, it could reform the system. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Mathew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, described the bill on the House floor Wednesday as a lengthy bill that does “a lot of things.”

The bill changes some outdated language in the state code and also requires the Department of Health and Human Resources to study the centralized intake system. That is the system where children who need support or protection under the state system are identified.

The biggest problem facing the Child Protective Services system in the state, though, is staffing.

The bill “has new language which directs that a pay equity salary adjustment and increase be provided to all direct service employees as defined by the commissioner working within the Bureau of social services,” Rohrbach said. The proposed salary adjustment is 15 percent for each direct service employee.

Del. Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, supported the bill, partly from personal experience.

“I know too well, just within the last few weeks, what it’s like as a dad to take in a foster placement, 12 months old, and to be excited about trying to help that child and trying to help the family that has lost custody of that child,” he said. “I know what it’s like to see that child wake up on the first morning in our home, absolutely terrified, brand new surroundings, strangers, absolutely terrified.”

Pinson said the 15 percent pay raise would benefit the system.

“We have to slow the turnover rate in the state of West Virginia,” he said. “We have to fix the vacancy rate in DHHR which right now is at 30 percent statewide, in Jackson County, in Mason County, it’s over 50 percent.”

House Bill 4344 passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 99 to 1 and now heads to the Senate.