Randy Yohe Published

Time Runs Out On Foster Care Bill


House Bill 4344 was intended to better support and protect more than 7,000 of West Virginia’s most vulnerable children. Late on the final day of the legislative season, a greatly amended version of the bill passed by the Senate went to the House. But, time ran out before Delegates could concur or reject the bill. The bill died.

With a drastic shortage of social service workers across the state, a 15 percent pay rise that was key to the bill was eliminated. The Justice administration said it could fund the raises by “collapsing” 600 current open positions, but no explanation has been given yet on how that will work.

The final version dropped the public information data dashboard, meant to better inform and coordinate foster families and the myriad of agencies they work with. Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, worried the dashboard would jeopardize the privacy of children in small communities. Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Cabell, had concerns over some technical glitches on dashboards in other states.

The bill would have enhanced services to kinship families, updated computer systems and prompted a study of the centralized intake system. Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, got an amendment accepted that any call to the child abuse hotlne from a medical profesional would go directly to the local case worker and local law enforcement.

Baldwin expressed his frustration after the session ended. “We lost it all in foster care. We lost intake reform, we lost the data dashboard, we lost strengthening the office of the Ombudsman,” Baldwin said. “We have a huge issue with child welfare and child wellbeing in West Virginia. Over 6000 children in foster care. The number of kids in state care has gone up 70% over the last decade, and we did nothing this legislative session. We had just one bill that was a priority to pass. One bill for child wellbeing and in 60 days, it was not a priority for this legislature. And I’m ashamed of that. And I think West Virginians should be ashamed of that.”