CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – The House of Delegates this week advanced the third of three key bills introduced this session to improve conditions in the state’s foster care and child welfare system.
The House Finance Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a committee substitute for House Bill 4092, which reforms several key aspects of the state’s foster care system.
The bill, along with two others that have already passed this session, were the product of months of work during the interim committee process last year.
“This is something so many of us – on both sides of the aisle – have devoted a significant amount of time on for more than a year,” said Delegate Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, a co-sponsor of the bills.
“We have met with families, we’ve talked to judges, spoken with experts in the field, we’ve heard immensely personal stories,” Delegate Pack said. “We’ve looked into the eyes of some of our most vulnerable children and families, felt their pain, and promised to make a positive change for them.”
Due largely to the substance abuse crisis, the state’s foster care and child welfare system – which serves nearly 7,000 children – has been strained beyond capacity in recent years.
Last year, the Legislature passed House Bill 2010, which made initial reforms, including transitioning the foster healthcare system to a managed care model like the state’s Medicaid system.
This year’s bills are designed to build upon that by making reforms designed to encourage more people to become foster or kinship families, reduce bureaucratic hassles that hinder people from becoming parents, and strengthen the rights of foster children and families.
Among its provisions, House Bill 4092 would improve the state’s Foster Children’s Bill of Rights, create a new Foster Parents’ and Kinship Bill of Rights and make critical reforms to parenting standards and the guardian ad litem child representation process.
The bill would also trigger about $30.3 million in additional funding for foster care families and services, $16.9 million of which would come from the state. That would cover the increase of the per diem rate paid for children placed through child placing agencies from $55 to $75 a day, and ensure at least 40 percent of that new rate goes directly to the foster care home.
Additionally, kinship families and those who foster children directly through the Department of Health and Human Resources would be provided $900 a month for each child placed in their home.
“There’s a lot of good things in this bill, and we’re excited to pass it,” Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, told MetroNews this week. “For the past two years, we’ve been proactive. There’s been a crisis and we’re well aware of it. We’re doing everything we can at record speed to help solve it.
“We’re hoping that there are more foster families that are available to foster these kids,” Chairman Householder said.
In addition to House Bill 4092, which will be up for amendments and passage early next week, delegates this session have also passed House Bill 4094, which will strengthen the office of the Foster Care Ombudsman. That office oversees the foster care system within the DHHR and investigates complaints made in the system.
Additionally, delegates have also passed House Bill 4129, which eliminates the waiting period for the hearing on an adoption petition and adds flexibility to the process by allowing the adoption hearing to take place in the county in which the foster child was originally removed or the county in which the adoptive parents live.
House Bill 4192 has already passed the Senate and will be sent to Gov. Jim Justice for his consideration. House Bill 4094 is currently being considered by the Senate Select Committee on Children and Families.
Delegate Pack said that while there has been some drama and heated debate on other issues in the House recently, he said it was important to recognize the tremendous efforts that have been put in to making these reforms become reality.
“This foster care bill is a shining example of how we can come together, rise above our differences, and pass a bill that will truly make a positive impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable in this state,” Delegate Pack said.
“I am so proud of the work we have all put in on these bills and thank every member of this body, every agency representative who has provided input, and every family that has spoken out for reform.”