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Opioid Epidemic Gives Rise to Increased Need for Foster Homes

WHEELING — Some victims of West Virginia’s opioid epidemic likely never took any drugs, as the number of children left without parents to care for them grew by about 1,300 in just the last year.

As the Mountain State’s foster care system struggles to accommodate the influx of children removed from homes because their parents are suffering from drug addiction, the need for those generous enough to open their homes to children in need is also growing.

“We know the number of children in foster care is growing because of drug and opioid abuse,” said Stephanie Strope, who serves as a supervisor at the Wheeling branch of the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. “As an advocate for children, I think we need to make sure we have the best treatment options of those affected by drug abuse.”

In the meantime, Strope said the statistics are startling. She said there were about 5,000 children in West Virginia foster homes in early 2017. Now, the number is about 6,300.

“There is not a public school teacher in this city who is not sitting in front of a foster child,” she said. “There are more of them than people realize. These are children who have experienced a tremendous amount of loss in their lives.”

Strope said Ohio County features 10 active foster homes, the most of any county in the Northern Panhandle. Other counties have homes as follows: Marshall, three; Hancock, seven; Brooke, five; and Wetzel, two.

“We clearly need more,” she said.

However, Strope, working in her new office at 1329 National Road in Wheeling, said her goal goes beyond simply putting, “kids in beds.”

“We work to find the right match. Everybody is human,” she said.

Strope said another misconception among some is that foster children are “bad kids.” She said the public should understand the difficult circumstance some of these youngsters face.

“For the most part, these are just regular kids,” Strope said. “One may have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), one may be autistic, one may be an advanced student with no visible problems.”

Strope said her agency is one of a few in the Northern Panhandle that has a contact with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services to find foster homes for children who need them. She said the state stopped doing this on its own a few years ago.

To become a licensed foster parent, Strope said one must complete about 45 hours of training, pass a criminal background check, have a high school diploma or GED, and have a valid driver’s license.

“There are cases in which we can make an exception, but those are the general guidelines,” she said.

Strope said the compensation for foster parents is $24 per day, per child. In West Virginia, she said all children in state custody receive free medical care and free education, while, in some cases, the state may even pay for the cost of day care.

“There is no ‘typical foster parent,'” she said, “just like there are no ‘typical foster children.'”

Strope said anyone interested should contact the West Virginia DHHR at 304-232-4411 or her office at 304-810-2460.

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