ALDERSON, W.Va. (WVVA)- A federal class-action lawsuit alleges West Virginia is failing to protect the nearly 7,000 children in its care. 80 percent of which, state officials estimate, are there because of the drug crisis.
By its own assessment West Virginia’s foster care system only meets the needs of those it serves 21 percent of the time. Foster parent Saundra Zermeno see this firsthand. Zermeno said, “It is really difficult for them to give you all the attention that you think you need when they’ve got a caseload, they’ve got several case loads, that they really don’t have the time to spend with you the way that you would want them to spend with you.”
Politicians say changes are coming, like privatizing parts of the system and appointing an ombudsman to work in the Office of the Inspector General, monitoring the changes and providing feedback to lawmakers. But private non-profits like Davis Stuart are feeling the strain too, evidenced by ten lawsuits since 2018 against the children’s home brought by former employees alleging overwork without proper compensation. At the time of this publication a lawyer representing Davis Stuart had not responded to request for comment.
The West Virginia Child and Services Plan for 2020 lays out a path for improvement. The plan is put together by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Overall the plan emphasized a proactive community-based approach to solving the state’s foster care struggles. Recruiting for foster care parents is also mentioned as a specific effort the state will coordinate among its service providers.
But to foster parents all these changes are minor. Zermeno said, “As far as a foster parent or my job or what I would do, I don’t see any changes. I take them in, I love them, I take care of them, and I don’t ever see that’s gonna change.”