CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A dashboard with some foster care data collected by the state of West Virginia made its debut Wednesday, more than two months after it was cut by lawmakers from a bill proposal.
Advocates have said making the data available to the public could help both policymakers and nonprofit groups interested in assisting children while keeping residents informed. It includes information on Child Protective Service placements by county; types of placements, including homes and placement facilities; workforce information broken down by both district office and county; and out-of-state placements.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources dashboard, which will be updated monthly, there are 6,654 children in the care of the state. One-third of the in-state placements are children living with relatives acting as certified foster parents.
Marissa Sanders, who is an adoptive parent and founder of the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network, has called the need for the dashboard critical.
“As a nonprofit, if I want to do a project in a particular county or region, I have to have data to prove that I need to do that project in order to get funding for it,” Sanders said. “I have pastors calling, saying, ’We’d love to support all of the foster families in our county.”
The youngest age groups in the dashboard represent about one-third of the total: About 1,050 foster children under age 1 and an additional 1,092 children ages 1 to 4. About 29%, or 1,937 foster children, are ages 13 to 17.
There are 382 out-of-state foster placements with 23 other states involved. Nearly half of those placements are in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
There is a 29% vacancy rate statewide for foster care employees, according to the dashboard.
“Workforce is DHHR’s biggest problem right now,” agency Secretary Bill Crouch said at a news conference Tuesday. “Being able to hire employees, CPS and other employees, is becoming more and more difficult. These folks are absolutely crucial to what we do. They are so important to the system.”
To try to retain existing workers, about 970 employees of the DHHR’s Bureau for Social Services will receive 15% pay raises starting June 18. Vacant positions funded the raises. The raises and other key provisions were stripped from a social services bill before it died on the final day of the regular legislative session in March.
The state also is in the midst of hiring a consultant to review the massive DHHR, which has a $7.6 billion budget, or 39% of the state’s entire spending. In late March, Gov. Jim Justice vetoed a bill that would have split the DHHR into separate agencies, saying he first wanted to look into its “issues, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies.”
“DHHR is not broken,” Crouch said. “We take care of hundreds of children daily. We take care of adults who need our assistance and a variety of other folks. We want to make sure those folks are given credit for the good work they do.”