Please note, this report was co-authored by WVCBP executive director, Kelly Allen, and WVCBP child welfare summer research fellow, Veronica Witikko.
Read the full report here.
West Virginia’s future depends on our ability as a state to nurture the health and well-being of the next generation of West Virginians—our children. Essential to that goal is building supports and investing in high-quality, evidence-based programs to reduce and prevent child abuse and neglect. That means supporting families before they are in crisis.
Currently, West Virginia places four times as many children per capita in the foster care system as the United States as a whole. The Mountain State permanently terminates parental rights faster and more often than any other state in the country. While the child welfare system is designed to protect children, foster care involvement can have harmful effects on children and their families. Separating children from their families is a traumatic event for everyone involved and can lead to toxic stress for children, attachment problems, and feelings of loss and grief.
Recognizing the trauma of separation and the important bonds that children share with their families, federal law requires states to enact reasonable efforts through services and supports to preserve and reunify families. However, West Virginia’s high per capita rates of children in foster care and the frequency and speed with which parental rights are terminated suggest that our state is falling short of its obligation to make reasonable efforts and help children remain with their families.
Child welfare system involvement is strongly associated with economic insecurity and cumulative material hardship. In fact, the majority of families investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) are low-income, and most children entering foster care in West Virginia are removed at least in part due to parental disordered substance use or neglect. Both are systemic challenges that can be addressed more effectively through policies and programs that promote economic security, prevent and treat substance use disorder, and help build family protective factors.
Effective research-based prevention approaches help strengthen families, reduce parental stressors, prevent child maltreatment, and help children thrive. Unfortunately, state and national child welfare systems historically have been reactive rather than proactive, primarily providing economic and social supports to children only after they have entered foster care rather than supporting biological families while the child is still in the home, which can prevent the hardship chain reaction and avoid child welfare involvement entirely.
Research shows there are more effective approaches to addressing child maltreatment, like providing prevention services earlier— before child abuse or neglect occurs in the first place. These include universally available interventions, not just resources for children once they enter foster care, including family strengthening programs that build protective factors and policies that provide concrete economic supports for families. Robust economic supports that can reduce child maltreatment and, in some cases, speed up family reunification include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Child Tax Credits (CTC), Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), and others.
Access the full report here.
We have a great newsletter, join below: