The majority of West Virginia’s children in foster care are actually teenagers. Many of them are placed in group homes instead of foster care.
There are currently 6,298 children in West Virginia state care and 31.79 percent of those children are between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.That means slightly more than 2000 of them are teens.
The National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP) aims to change the lives of children, youth and families and the systems, structures and practices that affect them.
Terrilynn Durnal is a licensing specialist for the program and licenses foster homes for children ages zero through 18 for West Virginia, among other states.
“Currently, the West Virginia foster care system, I believe, has about 6,000 children in foster care,” Durnal said. “And currently, over 500 of those children are living in group homes and shelters. So our ultimate goal is to get those children out of group homes and shelters and get them into a foster home family-type setting.”
According to West Virginia’s Child Welfare Dashboard, there are currently 502 West Virginia children in state-group residential care and 275 in out-of-state group residential care.
Family reunification is a complex process and is considered by experts to be the best solution for children in care, as soon as the family has changed the dysfunctional patterns that prevent child safety and well-being.
At NYAP, biological family members are able to access resources that may lead to reunification. Services offered include assistance to enter rehabilitation from drug use and parenting courses.
“We want to offer them parenting classes, and offer them supervised visits, so that we can teach them really, how to care for their child, and how to appropriately discipline their child and how to show them, you know, love and affection that some people don’t know how to do that just naturally, or they weren’t shown that as a child,” Durnal said. “So they struggled to show that to their own children. So we want to fix whatever barriers have taken place that have allowed this family situation to get where it is.”
However, reunification is not always a viable option for families and according to Durnal, oftentimes older children will take on the role of parent to their younger sibling only to be separated in the process of finding placement.
“Those little kids may go into foster care, and you see that older child, because there’s no place for them to go, you know, head to a group home or your shelter, and we want to get them back together, we want to see them in a home together, we want to see them with their siblings, because that’s where children thrive,” Durnal said.
To learn more about becoming a foster parent visit NYAP.org or call 1-877-692-7226.
“You have to be able to provide a loving stable home environment,” Durnal said. “And we really are hoping to find people who are interested in taking sibling groups and homes for teenagers.”
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.