|West Virginia is one of many states struggling to place children in appropriate foster-care settings, and the Commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ new Bureau for Social Services told legislators Tuesday the problem will not be solved overnight.
Jeffrey Pack, a former delegate from Raleigh County who took over the Bureau for Social Services post in August, gave his impression of the agency’s challenges to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability. He formerly served as chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee.
Pack said the state does not have sufficient community-based services for children in the foster-care system. Some communities, he said, may have adequate support for children, but others – especially rural communities – do not.
In addition, Pack said the state has problems finding room for children in shelters on a short-term basis because COVID-19 has reduced the number of available beds.
Pack addressed Bureau staffing.
“Recruitment for CPS (Child Protective Services) workers is stable,” he said, “but retention is a problem.”
As a result, he said, caseloads become unmanageable, thus creating more challenges for case workers. He said the bureau is helping staff members learn to cope with stressful situations and how to de-escalate them.
Lack of pay remains a significant problem for the Bureau, and Pack said case workers recognize they can work in less stressful jobs for comparable pay.
He said the Bureau is working to streamline the information system to make data, such as a child’s health records, more readily available.
“We’re not there yet, but I made it clear that’s our expectation,” he said.
Pack said The West Virginia Children’s Home in Elkins could accommodate more children, but the state would have to spend more money there for staffing and support. Low pay remains a problem there, too, he added.
Commission member Amy Summers, a delegate from Taylor County, told Pack the president of Fairmont State University, Mirta Martin, oversaw a program in another state that placed former foster children in a college campus setting and provided them job training. Pack said he would contact Martin about the program.
Sen. Ron Stollings, a physician from Boone County and a Commission member, asked what the cost to the state would be if it did not increase spending on foster care given that many children in the system historically have ended up in prison.
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