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Making Children (Official) Priority

Children are the top priority in the minds of many West Virginians. Some legislators wonder whether they are a high enough priority in state government, however.

During a press conference Monday in Charleston, a bipartisan group of lawmakers suggested state government needs to do more to safeguard children. Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, was among them.

“We have so many issues in West Virginia with our children,” Zukoff said. “We just see this is a real year when we can take care of some of those issues,” she added.

Zukoff and lawmakers who joined her at the press conference are correct. One of the challenges they cited, poverty, is a perennial concern in our state. About 25% of West Virginia youngsters live in homes with incomes below the federal poverty line.

But a second major concern is drug abuse and how it affects children. About 80% of those in foster care in West Virginia were placed there because of drug abuse in their families. During the past five years, the number of youngsters in foster care has skyrocketed, going from 4,254 to 7,037.

It is not as if state officials have ignored the concern — far from it. Just last year, legislators approved a major boost in funding for counselors in public schools, to address at-risk children. And the state Department of Health and Human Services has increased the share of state funding it dedicates to helping children.

Funding, or rather, the lack of it, is a major obstacle. Resources available to legislators are limited — more so now than during the past couple of years.

Perhaps a good place for Zukoff and other concerned legislators to start would be an examination of how West Virginia spends money intended to promote children’s welfare. Are the funds earmarked for such programs being used as efficiently as possible? Should some resources be transferred from less critical initiatives to others in which children’s very safety is the mission?

“We think it’s really important for West Virginians to put their money where their heart is, with our children,” Zukoff said on Monday.

We doubt that many Mountain State residents would disagree with that.

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