CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As part of the Legislature’s efforts to continue improving the state’s foster care system, House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, today said leaders will continue to listen and work with foster parents, care providers, experts and agency officials to refine reforms ahead of the 2020 legislative session.
The efforts are designed to build upon a comprehensive reform bill, House Bill 2010, which passed during the 2019 regular session.
“In continuing our efforts to improve foster care in West Virginia, we have been investigating different aspects of the system during our interim committee meeting process,” Majority Leader Summers said. “The additional reforms we’re investigating include codifying the foster families’ rights, and removing an additional 45-day waiting period in the adoption process that the courts and families feel is unnecessary.”
As part of the process of evaluating improvements, Majority Leader Summers – who co-sponsored House Bill 2010 – has met with circuit court judges in her region and attended a forum hosted by the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia to hear foster parents’ concerns.
While Summers said more reforms can be made, she said some problems foster parents currently face stem from a lack of implementation or education about the various aspects of House Bill 2010. She said most of the public debate and media coverage on that bill focused on reforms to the health care portion of the system, so some people might not be aware of other aspects designed to reduce the burdens and streamline regulations on foster families.
“One foster mother shared her frustration of not being able to get approval for her foster child's haircut prior to the start of school,” Majority Leader Summers said. “I was able to refer her to the relevant portions of House Bill 2010 that addressed this so she could read for herself that this was one area we improved. She used that knowledge to take the initiative and work to resolve her situation.”
The West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Care Network, in partnership with Marshall University and the state Department of Health and Human Resources, recently released a survey designed to allow foster, adoptive and kinship parents the opportunity to provide input on ways to strengthen the state’s child welfare system.
That survey is available at wvfosterparents.org/survey. It will be available until Nov. 18 to allow time for processing submissions ahead of December legislative interim committee meetings.
Majority Leader Summers encourages state foster, adoptive and kinship care families to participate in the online survey and provide their input.
“We thoroughly support the biological parents’ rights all while wanting the families who step up to provide the valuable service of foster care the support they need,” Majority Leader Summers said. “In order to identify the areas of concern foster parents share, the Legislature will receive the results of a survey prepared by the foster community in December and use it to continue our reform efforts.”
Last week, the state DHHR appointed Pamela M. Woodman-Kaehler as Foster Care Ombudsman for West Virginia. This new position, created by House Bill 2010, will provide oversight and recommend improvements to the state’s child welfare system.
Majority Leader Summers said she welcomed Woodman-Kaehler’s appointment, and looks forward to working with her and other advocates to continue improving the state’s system.
“We want to enhance any aspects of the system we can to make this endeavor less stressful for all involved,” she said. “This may be through new legislation or just alerting the relevant governmental agencies and foster care providers what needs to be done better to make the journey easier for all involved.”