BUCKHANNON — The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur recently heard from Leah Peck, Foster Care Recruiter, with the public service organization, Necco. The organization supports children of all ages in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia, through foster care, adoption and counseling.
According to Peck, there are approximately 7,200 children currently in foster care in West Virginia alone and over 400,000 in the United States. She also noted that West Virginia has been one of the leading states regarding the number of children in foster care, per capita. These statistics do not include kinship children, who are being raised by relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents or any other individuals who are not the child’s parent but have a family relationship with them.
As a foster mom herself, Peck noted, “The most challenging and most rewarding obstacle has been being a parent.” She added that bringing in children through foster care is a completely different experience than normal parenthood.
Peck explained that the majority of her work consists of finding foster parents. However more relevant to rotarians, is the need and benefit of kinship fosters, she noted. “There is help out there for family members who takes on the responsibility of a family member’s child.” Most commonly grandparents take in their grandchildren.
Based on the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau survey, West Virginia ranked number two out of the top five states with the highest rates of grandparents raising grandchildren, at 54.4%, noting over half of West Virginia grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Necco assists kinship foster parents with finding financial assistance, as well as assisting with counseling and things of that nature. Peck told rotarians if they do know someone who is a kinship foster parent, she wants them to know of this system and that support is out there, so they don’t fight it on their own. Peck encourages any grandparent working through this process to reach out to her if they need any sort of assistance.
The recruiter also added that there is a need for “empty nesters” – someone who will just allow a foster child to join their home for a few hours. “Teenagers are my favorite so far to have in my own home, because they’re so appreciative. I see a 16-year-old who presents herself as an adult and suddenly she looks like a little girl again. There is something so powerful about that… being able to give that to them,” Peck emotionally explained. “Show them how to load a dishwasher, help them get their driver’s license or fill out job applications, help them with their homework, throw them a birthday party or go homecoming dress shopping with them. And they can help you learn how to use your iPad,” Peck said. The recruiter explained, there is never a shortage of people who want to foster and adopt babies, but when it comes to 10 to 12-years-old, there are no homes.
Currently, all classes to become a foster parent through Necco are online. There is one class a night, for nine weeks. Once completed, individuals fill out paperwork and someone will do a simple walk through of the home.
One rotarian was curious about West Virginia’s policy regarding the timeframe for biological parents once a child is initially removed from the home. Peck explained parents, in West Virginia, have 15 months on their improvement plan, which is given out in three to six month increments. Typically, within the first three months after removal, they will have a hearing and in six months, if they’ve made improvements, the judge may allow an extension, according to Peck. However, she noted, after 15 months, if they are not fully ready to receive the children back, they will move towards termination. “So, it could take up to two years if the parent kind of works on the plan,” she reiterated.
Peck added, “It’s a complicated situation. The state used to let it drag on a lot longer than that, but they’re much quicker to move on now and some of that is, attitudes changing on it.”
According to Peck, “The system is very much starting to focus on the best interest for the child, rather than the best interest for the parents. It is complex but I have faith in the system now. Of course, it has downfalls, but if you just do the right thing, I trust that what’s meant to happen will happen.”
Several rotarians felt many emotions hearing Peck’s presentation, as they have been directly impacted by the foster care system – one whom is a parent of three adopted children.
The Record Delta spoke with one local family who is in the process of adopting through Necco. They explained, “Becoming foster parents was always a thought, but we never imagined it would actually happen. We started the process in 2020. The paperwork wasn’t very difficult and the classes made us feel extremely prepared. Our house officially opened in the summer of 2021. We are now with our second placement, that we are actually planning to adopt. We don’t think we will stop here. We still plan to foster and maybe adopt another child. Being a foster parent is one of the greatest joys of our lives.”
If you or someone you know is interested in the process or struggling with the process, contact Leah Peck at (304) 594-8447.