Fact-check: Has West Virginia’s Foster Care Caseload Jumped by Two-thirds in Recent Years?

In this Wednesday, April 10, 2013 photo, 22-year-old former foster child Megan Moore adjusts a hair band on her 5-month-old daughter, Constance, at their home in Kenova, W.Va. After leaving foster care, Megan pursued a degree in paramedic science at Mountwest Community Technical College in Huntington, W.Va. However, she says “life got in the way” and she was not able to keep up with a program designed for older fosters exiting the system. Photo: AP Photo, Randy Snyder

West Virginia is reeling from the opioid epidemic, including a significant impact on children whose parents have become addicted.

During recent testimony before the state Senate, Jeremiah Samples, the deputy secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, sought to explain exactly how big that impact has been.

In a Feb. 28 video clip of his testimony aired on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Samples said, “We have had an increase of 67 percent (in) the number of number of children taken into state custody since 2014.” By custody, he was referring to children in the foster care system.

That’s a large increase. Is it correct? We took a closer look.

When we reached Samples’ office, they offered one qualification — they said that he had misspoken when he said the first year of the comparison was 2014. He should have said 2013 instead, the office said.

So what is the rise since 2013? A spokeswoman for his department, Jessica Holstein, pointed us to data collected by the federal Adoption and Foster Care Reporting System.

She provided data from 2013 to 2018 showing that the number of children in foster care on Sept. 30 of each year had risen from 4,309 to 7,210. That’s a 67 percent increase.

We tried to verify those figures against the original federal database but only found data published through 2017. Holstein said the 2018 data came from state figures that have been submitted to the federal government but which has not yet been published.

The percentage increase for the nation as a whole was 11 percent between 2013 and 2017, so West Virginia’s increase was substantially larger than the United States as a whole.

The only caveat we’ll note is that the one-day snapshot of children in the foster care system is not the only relevant statistic that’s collected.

The number of children entering the foster care system rose between 2013 and 2016 by 42 percent, a somewhat smaller increase than the one-day snapshot showed. But the number of children waiting for adoption rose by an even larger amount than the one-day snapshot — 76 percent.

Both of these figures were significantly higher than the increase nationally over the same period — a 6 percent increase in children entering the foster care system, and a 19 percent increase in children waiting for adoption.

Our ruling

Samples said, “We have had an increase of 67 percent (in) the number of children taken into state custody since 2014.”

Samples’ office acknowledged that he had misspoken on the year; he should have said 2013. Using that year along with the data officially submitted by the state, he’s correct about the 67 percent increase. This rise, and the rise in other related data on the state’s foster care system, far outstrips the increase seen nationally.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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