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The Upshur County Commission on Thursday declared May Foster Care Awareness month. Pictured, from left, are commission president Sam Nolte, commissioner Kristie Tenney, FRN director Lori Ulderich Harvey and commissioner Terry Cutright.

Upshur FRN: Children in W.Va.’s foster care system outnumber available families

BUCKHANNON – In West Virginia there are approximately 7,000 children in the foster care system, but only about 1,300 foster families in the state.

At Thursday’s Upshur County Commission meeting, Lori Ulderich Harvey, executive director of the Upshur County Family Resource Network, presented a proclamation making May Foster Care Awareness Month.

“I happened across this poster from last year that said we had more than 6,000 children in foster care, and now it’s 7,000,” Harvey said. “In Upshur County we went from 51 to 137 which is a 168.6 percent increase.”

Harvey said she tried do a count of the local nine-county region, but only eight reported results.

“We have 1,088 kids and 372 homes so we have 34 percent of our kids covered, and the rest are just waiting,” Harvey said.

She said the FRN and other agencies are always trying to find more foster families going, but there are misconceptions that may stop some people from being interested that she wanted to clear up.

“We had a family social on Monday, and one of the officers that was there to talk to the kids and parents … she was told that she could not foster because she was single,” Harvey said. “That is wrong, single, cohabitating, same sex, divorced, they can all foster.”

She said that’s why it’s important to raise awareness at events that allow people to ask questions about fostering. In fact, one is coming up: there will be an open house called Fostering Hope Wednesday, May 7 at the Public Safety Complex in the training room from 6 to 8 p.m.

On top of open houses, Harvey said the FRN has begun to partner with Sarah Campbell, director of the Upshur County Senior Center, to work on a program called Healthy Grandfamilies through West Virginia State University.

“For an hour or two every week for three months, they have different topics like communication, parenting and 21st century self-care, nutrition and navigating the legal system,” Harvey said. “We’re identifying people in our county that can come and do those classes that that’s their wheelhouse.”

In June, she said she wants to start a foster care, adopt support group.

“It doesn’t have to just be Upshur County,” Harvey said. “It could be Lewis, Randolph, Barbour, if any of them want to come over, but right now I think the closest one is in Fairmont.”

She said the other thing she is really trying to educate people on is the “aging out” population of the foster care system.

“A lot of people think ‘you’re 18, you’re an adult so you can take care of yourself, you know how to do everything, you don’t need a safety net or even a support person,”’ Harvey said.

She said it’s beneficial if a family can be paired with a senior in high school and be their support network as they start their life and college.
“Think about when you went out on your own, you still had this net behind support network and they don’t have that,” Harvey said.

In other commission news, residents of French Creek came to the meeting meeting to voice concerns about the closed French Creek bridge on County Route 4/15 off Route 20 South near the French Creek United Methodist Church.

The West Virginia Division of Highways closed the bridge “indefinitely” April 17 due to safety concerns, according to a previous My Buckhannon article.

Resident of French Creek Joyce Harlow spoke at the commission meeting about safety concerns related to the bridge being closed. Harlow said one of their biggest concerns is children having to walk on Route 20 to get to the school bus.

“This involves our kids walking on Route 20 to get to the school bus, the school bus picks them up on the opposite side of the bridge,” Harlow said. “I was personally told that during the closure, the bridge would be closed to pedestrians and vehicle traffic, but our neighbor was told yesterday people could still walk across it, but I do not know.”

She said her neighbor talked to someone from the DOH and said they do plan on replacing the bridge.

“Yesterday our neighbor talked to someone from DOH, [and] it seems now they do intend to replace it, but it could take up to three years,” Harlow said. “They are working on a bypass road, and I guess they are going to try and remove the hillside and make it a safe outlet for us.”

She said she doesn’t know why the money is not going straight into the replacing the bridge.
“What I don’t understand is why go through this extra money of removing a hillside, maybe filling in some area, why don’t they just put all the money into replacing the bridge and do it now?” Harlow said.

“I understand there has to be impact studies, but it seems like they are just wasting time,” she added.

Harlow said if construction could be finished over the summer that would make the situation easier.

“If they would get it done in the summer, we wouldn’t have the issue because I know the school bus drivers had a meeting the other day trying to figure out how they are going to pick up our kids because none of the other alternatives are very safe,” Harlow said.

She said the bypass routes are longer and more narrow, making it harder for EMS and the fire department.

“There’s not only this little bypass, there are two other options for a bypass to get out on Route 20, one is like a quarter of a mile, the next one is a half-mile … the other one goes clear up to Hoovertown Road, and it’s three-quarters of a mile, so it is making EMS response time more.”

Commission president Sam Nolte said county officials planned on visiting the bridge the day of the meeting to see if there is anything they can do.

In the previous My Buckhannon story, Chad Boram, a bridge engineer with DOH’s District 7, said the bridge was closed due to its poor deteriorated condition and will likely have to be removed.

“It’s likely the bridge will be removed whenever funds are available to do so,” Boram said. “We inspect bridges every two years, and we’ve been inspecting that one every year. We came back and re-evaluated in, and we’ve been considering closure on that one for a few years.”

Read the original article here.

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