BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — The fight for efficient foster care is a nationwide issue, one the mountain state knows all too well.
An epidemic, code red, at a crisis level. Just some of the few ways those on the front lines characterize the Foster care program in West Virginia.
Tina Gray-Russell is the program manager for Beckley Braley and Thompson, a foster care and adoption agency. She said whenever you have to put children up in hotel rooms due to a lack of families, you have a crisis.
“Unfortunately right now in West Virginia foster care is at a crisis level. We have 7,000 children in West Virginia that are in the foster care system,” said Gray-Russell.
Braley and Thompson are just one of seven in the state working together, in what she called a love fight to try to improve the lives of those seven thousand children and more.
But workers in the foster care system cannot do so alone. Foster care families are the lifeblood of the system, a system Gray-Russells said is in desperate need of a blood transfusion.
“So there is a dire need for foster parents, we have more kids than we have foster parents right now,” said Gray-Russell.
Gray-Russell works to find potential foster families, as well as train and certify them, with the goal to give a foster child the best life they possibly can. Through her work, she found Andrea Martin, a mother of a family of four from Raleigh county.
Martin said when she and her husband heard about the state of the foster care system, they felt obligated to do something.
“It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of where the kids, the situations that they are in, but there is a need for that and if you can bless a kid’s life for even a short time to a long term time, I think it is really important,” said Martin.
But adding two more children to a family of four is not an easy task. Martin said she often felt overwhelmed, and imagines other families within the system feel the same. She said it took the teamwork of her husband, Gray-Russell, and even the biological parent to provide the children with the care they deserve.
“I was a foster parent myself for four years, and when I tell people I have walked the walk with them, I have actually been a foster parent and I know for a fact a child’s life is better whenever you are in it. If it is for two weeks, two months, or two years if you are in that child’s life and you providing a positive impact, it can be provided in an instant,” said Gray-Russell.
But it will take a lot more than teamwork to make a dent in the situation.
The opioid crisis sent the number of foster care children to record highs. Gray-Russell said the pandemic only made things worse.
“We have gotten more referrals with families struggling with addiction, I believe no one wants to lose their kids, most people want to do right by their kids,” said Gray-Russell.
Gray-Russell said if you want to be a foster parent, but worry you would become too attached, you are exactly the type of parent they need. While adoption is an option, it is not the main goal of foster care.
“The goal of fostering is reunification. You are prepared to have them for a time and love on them, and show them what they can be and help them on their education and prepare them the best you can to go back home,” said Martin.
To give children the life they deserve, a goal only achievable through the work of the community.
For those interested in being a foster parent, you can find more information on their website.