Foster parent gives emotional testimony before West Virginia lawmakers

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- With almost 7,000 children in the foster care system in West Virginia, the need for foster families is growing.

Danny Gill, a foster parent in West Virginia, speaks to lawmakers about some of the issues foster families face across the state.

But one foster parent testified before lawmakers with the Joint Committee on Children and Families Tuesday, saying he feels there are changes that could be made that would encourage more families become foster parents.

During Danny Gill's testimony, he stated that when it comes to making decisions for children, he feels foster families have the least say.

He mentioned that one thing everyone could agree on is the fact that foster families are greatly needed, but he says laws need to be put on the books to alleviate some of the burden and cut out some of the red tape.

He also touched on how much money foster families are given and compared it to how much it costs to keep a child in a shelter, saying the cost to keep them there is much greater than what families get.

"Why do we make it such a process?" he asked lawmakers. "We need to make it easier to become a foster family. If someone wants to do this, we shouldn't make it hard."

Gill has fostered two children and is in the process of legally adopting one of them. He says he was heartbroken when they took one of them in because she didn't unpack for three months, fearing she might be moved from the home.

He said their home was the seventh place she had been at that point and that she had been moved from shelter to shelter.

He told lawmakers that based on personal experience, he feels foster parents should have more of a say when making decisions for the children and he had several suggestions for them to help ease the process.

"I think caseworkers need to have a little more power," Gill said. "They need to feel like they are a little more important. I think that especially for older children because they end up aging out of shelters and it's so expensive to keep kids in shelters that they could look at having a larger incentive or larger allowance to families that are fostering or have legal guardianship of older children. I think they could shorten the process of what it takes to become a foster parent, and I think they could support those in a lot of different ways. There's a lot of things that the Legislature can do."

Tuesday's meeting was just a chance for lawmakers to get insight from different stakeholders around the state when it comes to different issues facing West Virginia families and children.

Lawmakers also heard from others on different topics like expanding mental health services and combating the drug epidemic.