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Pictured, from left, are Sam Nolte, Leah Smith Foster, Lori Ulderich-Harvey and Kristie Tenney.
Pictured, from left, are Sam Nolte, Leah Smith Foster,

More than 8,000 West Virginia children are now in foster care, doubling in four years

BUCKHANNON – As of November 2021, it is estimated there are 8,000 children in the foster care system in West Virginia.

Upshur County Family Resource Network Director Lori Ulderich-Harvey and Leah Smith, Foster Parent Recruiter with NECCO, attended the Nov. 4 Upshur County Commission meeting to proclaim November as National Adoption Month.

“I’m super excited to be back here,” Smith said. “I was just sitting here thinking this was incredibly emotional for me, because the last time I was here, I had not adopted my son yet. Now he is officially mine, and my name is on his birth certificate, so this is incredibly important to me. There are over 8,000 children in foster care in West Virginia, which has more than doubled since 2017.”

Harvey said that number does not include children being raised by another family member, such as a grandparent.

“Right now, with the senior center, our Healthy Grandfamilies program is in its second session,” Harvey said. “We’re past our third or fourth week out of nine, and we have four or five grandparents or sets of grandparents virtually for the fall.”

The program helps grandparents learn everything they may need to raise their grandchildren, including legal help.

“It covers a wide range of issues — navigating the legal system, navigating the school system, nutrition, self-care, stressors, family interactions,” Harvey said. “We have a presenter who is an expert in each session, so they’re available to answer questions. We work with social workers, and we try to let everybody know that we know there is a population of grandfamilies who have their grandkids but have no rights to them, so they’re quietly taking care of their grandkids and they don’t want to open up and say, ‘Yes, I need this.’”

Harvey said anyone taking care of their grandchild may utilize the program. If you are interested in joining for the remainder of the sessions or have questions about the program, contact Harvey via email at upshurfrn@yahoo.com or by phone at 304-473-1051.

“We just need to know you’re taking care of your grandkids, and we’re going to help you be able to do that,” Harvey said. “At the end of the program, if you meet so many sessions, you get a grocery gift card. Our sessions end Dec. 14, so we try to get them out a little bit before Christmas.”

The program also offers information about attaining guardianship or adoption.

“I just wanted to let everybody know that everything starts with foster care or kinship,” Smith said. “With kinship, you just walk right into that, but if you’ve ever thought about adopting, or you’ve ever thought about growing your family, the best thing to do is to open the door now, go ahead and take the online classes, get it out of the way. If you want to wait for an infant, you can, or if you want to say you’re open to zero-to-18, you can say that, and then the doors open.”

The proclamation read:

National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau, with the goal to increase national awareness and bring attention to the need for permanent families for children, youth in the U.S. foster care systems.

For over two decades, National Adoption Month has been promoted and celebrated every November in communities across the country. Many national state and local agencies as well as foster kinship care and adoptive family groups will help spread the word through programs, events and activities that will raise awareness for 1000s of children and youth in foster care waiting for their permanent loving families. This year National Adoption Day is Saturday, Nov. 20. As of May 2020, there are approximately 7,200 children in foster care, with just over 3,000 foster families registered (not including kinship homes). As of November 2021, there are no current numbers, but an estimation is now close to or over 8,000. The numbers continue to climb at an alarming rate. There are also a great deal of children living with family members who do not seek services in fear that the children will be removed from their care, so that only increases the number of foster children in our state.

The Upshur County FRN continues to raise awareness for foster care and adoption in hopes that these children will be placed in forever homes. We work to present the facts and dispel the myths to the journey to Foster and or adopt by holding foster care open houses and is currently starting a foster care and adoption peer group in Upshur County. Currently the UCFRN is working with the Senior Center in bringing the West Virginia State university program healthy grand families to Upshur County this past summer and the current fall session.

Many children awaiting adoptive families were removed from their biological families due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. These children have endured hardships, sadness, loss of relationships, and abuse. All these children deserve a permanent home. Without a permanent, loving adoptive home, these children face the likelihood of entering adulthood with no parental guidance or support. We believe that all children deserve a loving safe home.

Now therefore be it proclaimed by the Upshur County Commission that they hereby proclaim November 2021 as National Adoption Month and Nov.20, 2021 as National Adoption Day in Upshur County and encourage the residents of Upshur County to consider fostering or adopting a child or donating time resources or educating and advocating for our kids. We also celebrate all the adoptions that have taken place in Upshur County.

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