FAIRMONT – There is still a critical need for foster homes in West Virginia.
According to Denise McGinty, community resource coordinator with the National Youth Advocate Program, the number of foster children is disproportionate to the number of foster homes even just in Marion County, and many kids are leaving the area because of this need.
“We have just in my agency alone in Fairmont, about 28 youth from Marion County in foster care,” McGinty said. “We’re sending kids from our county out of our county because we don’t have enough homes.”
On Jan. 6, McGinty presented this information at a meeting of the Marion County Board of Education and asked for help spreading the word about the need to teachers and faculty. She specifically mentioned teenagers as the ones who are being shipped across the state to live in foster homes, because there aren’t enough families taking them in.
“There are not enough families who take teenagers, so they usually end up in shelters or they go across the state to a foster home,” McGinty said. “They might have to go to Wheeling or they might have to go to Martinsburg if they’re shipped across the state. That’s not ideal.”
McGinty said she approached the school board for help because teachers have constant contact with students, so they may already know of some who are in the foster care system. Michael Fortier is a teacher at East Fairmont Middle School and decided to become a foster parent about a year ago when he learned of this need.
“I had students who have been thrown into foster care because their parents have been arrested for drug use or multiple reasons,” Fortier said. “I had these students thrown into foster care who were good kids, didn’t do anything wrong and their whole lives were uprooted.”
Fortier has since taken in two foster children, and found the experience to be difficult because of both the preparation for the endeavor, and the emotional weight of it all. However, he said it was rewarding to be able to help in this regard.
“There is a long long list of things to make your house acceptable,” Fortier said. “.”
In order to become a foster parent, Fortier and his family had to go through training, and they had to meet requirements in the home to be certified to take in children. McGinty said this background process is the same for all hopeful foster parents.
“Every foster family comes through, they have to go through training, background checks interviews, home inspection, that sort of thing,” McGinty said. “Once they’re opened and licensed, they can accept children into the home.”
McGinty said this process is to ensure the foster kids have a good experience while they are moving through the court system, which can be taxing on their mental and emotional health.
Fortier and his family took two foster kids, an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old, into their home, and said that although nobody knew what to expect, the situation became normalized after just a short time.
“We weren’t really sure how that was all going to go,” Fortier said. “They were more scared than anything at first... But it was very amazing how well they did adjust and how well they took everything in stride.
“Really, they were the sweetest little kids ever.”
Fortier said that the help he and his family got from NYAP was what got them through the foster parenting itself because its staff members aided with the requirements and needs throughout the process.
“The people at NYAP, they’re wonderful,” Fortier said. “They walk you through every step of everything you need to do and keep all your ducks in a row for you. They do a really good job with that.”
McGinty also said that this help continues after a foster home gets a placement, so if a foster parent needs help with a child in any way, they have easy access.
“We support them too, we don’t place a child with them and leave,” McGinty said. “They usually have someone come to their home at least once a week, we have a 24/7 hotline, so they’re given a lot of support.”
With all the help that is available to foster parents, McGinty said that many people could likely meet the requirements if they tried. She said that as long as they meet the requirements, just about any adult can become a foster parent, so she encourages anyone interested to get involved with the NYAP.
She said again, that she would hope to see more homes open up to take in foster teenagers, especially those with siblings, so they could avoid the emotional trauma of being moved out of their home county, or away from their brothers or sisters.
“If I could get my wish granted, it would be that we had families that would take teenagers,” McGinty said. “A lot of times you have an older child but they have young siblings, the young siblings will go into a foster home but the older will go somewhere else, so they’re separated.”
Fortier said he and his family would like to take in more foster kids, because of the need for homes in West Virginia. He said that although it can be difficult to both meet and part with the kids, it is better than having them experience an unpleasant move across the state because there is nowhere else to go.
“These kids are worried about things that kids should never have to worry about,” Fortier said. “It was a very eye-opening and kind of a humbling experience for me and my kids as well I think.”
For more information on foster parenting or becoming a foster parent, contact the National Youth Advocate Program at 304-366-5832.