West Virginia Senate passes foster bill with payment raises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Foster parents who adopt children with special needs may soon get more money under a wide-ranging proposal passed Friday by the West Virginia Senate to reduce the state’s overburdened foster system.

Senators voted unanimously to approve the proposal. It now moves back to the House of Delegates for that chamber to approve the Senate’s amendments.

The measure directs state officials to expand a tiered system that would give higher payments to people who take in children with emotional, behavioral or intellectual problems. It sets aside $16.9 million for the payment system.

“There are some children for whom it is very hard to find foster parents,” said Republican Sen. Charles Trump, adding “lets spend more money to help a family who might be willing to take one or two with severe problems.”

The tiered system would have to be up and running by July 2021. Child placing agencies would also get $1,000 every time they finalize an adoption.

A previous version of the bill in the House would have raised payments to foster parents to at least $900 across the board. The Senate changed the bill to the tiered system.

The bill also contains a foster care bill of rights for both children and parents. At least 15 states have enacted bills establishing a foster children’s bill of rights and 17 have foster parent bill of rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure states that children are entitled to live in a safe environment, free of sexual and physical abuse, with adequate and healthy food. Foster parents would be entitled to receive training and have contact with the child placing agency and know about the child’s behavior, health and needs before the child is adopted.

“We’ve done something very good here. It’s such a great necessity. It’s been many years and coming,” said Sen. Rollan Roberts, a Raleigh Republican.

West Virginia’s foster care ranks have dramatically swelled during the national opioid epidemic. As of February, there were 7151 children in the system, compared with 4,254 in 2015, according to state records.

The legislative session ends Saturday.

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