House Health Committee makes changes to foster care program | News, Sports, Jobs

CHARLESTON — Members of the House Health and Human Resources Committee approved a bill tweaking West Virginia’s kinship foster care program and improving salaries for workers within the Department of Health and Human Resources

HB 4344 requires DHHR to develop a program with child placement agencies to ensure that kinship families are assigned to the agencies that can provide support services to the family. The department would need to create a new database to track these placements at an estimated cost of $8 million for the first year and $1.3 million per year to maintain.

According to a 2019 report by DHHR on its kinship care program, 49 percent of foster child placements were in kinship homes. Kinship programs place foster children either with blood relatives or responsible adults that had previous connections to the foster child.

Committee members heard from two major child placement providers: Necco and Mission West Virginia. While one provider had reservations helping shoulder more of the kinship load with DHHR, the other said they could handle more cases. As of January, there were 6,503 children in the state’s foster care system, with 2,051 in a certified kinship home and 1,430 in a non-certified kinship home.

“We also have staffing shortages,” said Amy Kennedy-Rickman, executive director of foster care for Ohio and West Virginia for Necco. “At this time, I would say we do not have the capacity to be assigned all of the kinship families.”

“Our Kinship Navigator program has been serving kinship families since the end of 2019,” said Rachel Kinder, director of the Frameworks program for Mission West Virginia. “We do have the ability to increase the capacity that we are currently servicing.”

Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, asked Jeff Pack, commissioner for DHHR’s Bureau for Social Services, whether his agency felt comfortable with working with the child placement agencies on kinship care after hearing the testimony of the providers.

“Are you feeling comfortable that we could actually transition cases over to the CPAs effectively to take some of the load off as we have in this bill,” Zukoff asked. “I believe it was the intent to spread the work out.”

“I’m hesitant to speculate,” Pack said. “I cannot answer that whether they can withstand that workload or not.”

The bill requires the department to contract with a third party to study how the agency handles centralized intake for abuse and neglect cases and to review the standards for accepting referrals. It allows DHHR to hire outside counsel for abuse and neglect cases instead of using county prosecuting attorneys.

HB 4344 also increases the pay for direct service workers by 15 percent and requires the Division of Personnel to increase the salary ranges for those job classifications by 20 percent.

According to a fiscal note for the bill submitted by DHHR, a 20 percent raise for fiscal year 2023 would cost approximately $10.5 million. The department has 1,265 positions categorized as direct service employees with 273 vacancies.

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