Number of children in West Virginia’s foster care system — now up to 8,000 — continues to climb

Also: Commission declares November National Adoption Month

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Pictured, from left, are Upshur County Commission President Sam Nolte, commissioner Kristie Tenney, Upshur FRN Executive Director Lori Ulderich Harvey and commissioner Terry Cutright. The commission proclaimed November National Adoption Month at its meeting Thursday.

BUCKHANNON – Approximately 8,000 children are now in foster care in West Virginia – about 800 more than this time in 2018 — and that number keeps increasing, county officials learned Thursday.

Upshur County Family Resource Network Executive Director Lori Ulderich Harvey attended Thursday’s Upshur County Commission meeting to ask commissioners to proclaim November National Adoption Month.

“We’re up to about 8,000, maybe 8,100, and that’s kind of a very unknown number, because we have so many grandparents, other family members and other people who don’t have rights to children who are taking care of them,” Harvey said. “They’re not asking for services because they don’t want the children taken away from them.”

She explained that people taking care of children who don’t have legal rights to them have to be concerned about the possibility of a future court dispute.

“If you have a grandparent, and the mom and the dad have taken off, and they’re taking care of the child, and then if one of the parents comes back, then they have to go through the court system to try to get them, and they may or may not be successful,” Harvey said. “We have a few that are kind of under the radar, and they estimate 500 to 700 – maybe more. We were at 7,200 children last year, and now we are at about 8,000 this year and that number just keeps climbing.”

Harvey said the Upshur FRN is attempting apply for more grant money than what they currently receive.

“We have already started – I hate to call a support group because it’s more like a peer group –for anybody who has a foster care child or adopted child or children to come to,” Harvey said. “It doesn’t have to be a grandparent, it doesn’t have to be a parent, it can be any guardian who is taking care of that child.”

She said this group will do some educational work but focus more on recreational activities.

“If you think about day-to-day life, it’s difficult enough to get your kids to school, get them back, get them to soccer, all that kind of stuff,” Harvey said. “Well, with a foster parent, you have parental visiting rights for the parents to visit, you have therapy sessions, you have to have a home finder come to your house every so often, depending on the agency, and time and money both run out.”

She hopes to start the group next month, but they’ve already had a pool party in July, a movie night in September and in early December, they plan to have a Grinch-themed holiday party.

“[Upshur County Senior Center Director] Sarah Campbell and I are trying to get the Mountain State University program called ‘Grandfamilies’ in at the senior center, and we’re hoping that we can get it up and running next spring,” Harvey said. “We have to get together and find out who our speakers are going to be for the nine weeks, how we are going to feed the people and how are we going to get the childcare and all those moving pieces.”

The program will help teach grandparents how to navigate the educational system, legal system, child nutrition and more.

“I never realized this until someone from the food bank told me it’s kind of a little crisis for them to figure out what to give a grandparent and a child for food … that’s because the child’s not going to want a head of cabbage and another thing is, what can the grandparent prepare for the kid? And what can the kid prepare for the grandparent?”

National Adoption Day is Nov. 23, and Harvey said the number of children in foster care has steadily been rising in West Virginia for several years. As of January 2017, there were approximately 5,040 children in foster care, in June 2018 there were approximately 6,680 and in November 2019 the approximate number was over 8,000.