Finding the money to save our children

Just five years ago, only about 3,000 children in West Virginia were being cared for by the state because parents could not or would not keep them safe. The number has skyrocketed to about 6,700.

Tens of thousands of other children are still living in homes that are dangerous — emotionally as well as physically — because of the drug abuse crisis.

Yet the state Department of Health and Human Resources has 213 job openings in child welfare positions, according to DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch. He added that the agency has nearly 1,000 positions vacant in other specialties.

Mountain State residents regularly hear news falling into the category of “wake-up calls” regarding drug abuse. Crouch’s testimony to legislators last week was more like an alarm bell.

Crouch told lawmakers it is estimated about 154,000 West Virginians — one in 12 of us — are suffering from substance abuse disorders. He added, “I believe that number is low.”

It is difficult to argue with him. One grim statistic, the fact our state has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, by far, lends credence to his warning.

Crouch focused much of his testimony on what drug abuse is doing to our children. Only about 58 percent of children placed into foster care are ever returned to their parents’ homes. Fewer than half ever earn high school diplomas. Forty-four percent have their own substance abuse problems. Once they age out of foster care, 68 percent of males and 40.5 percent of females will be arrested at least once.

And on and on he went, with a list of challenges facing children taken from their parents that, frankly, ought to make a caring person weep.

Crouch is asking legislators to increase the DHHR budget by $57.7 million for next year. Clearly, much of that funding is needed to cope with the fallout of drug abuse. A big chunk of that would be earmarked for child protection initiatives.

No doubt some lawmakers listening to Crouch shook their heads in frustration. With so many other demands on taxpayers’ money, where are they going to find $57.7 million more for the DHHR?

Somewhere, we pray.