Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts offer free programs to WV’s foster and kinship youth

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Girls Scouts of Black Diamond and the Buckskin Council, Boy Scouts of America have teamed up to offer free scouting for West Virginia children in foster and kinship care.

The partnership, announced Wednesday at the state Culture Center, was made possible by the Benedum Foundation grant.

Both groups are providing free membership to foster kids so they can have access to the same opportunities and resources as other children.

“We know girls that are in Girl Scouts, long term, have better careers, they get more education, they’re more likely to volunteer in their community, but more importantly for children in foster and kinship care, it’s that safe place where they feel like they belong,” said Beth Casey, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond.

One the groups who will benefit from scouting programs includes the West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network. Director Marissa Sanders said families need all the support they can get.

“We have between 6,000-7,000 kids in care and we’re always needing families. We need to retain the families that we have, so anything we can to do to support people who are currently caregivers will help us retain them,” Sanders said.

West Virginia has the highest rate of children in foster care in the nation at 17.8 percent, according to the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System and the U.S. Census Bureau from 2017.

The Children’s Home Society said those in foster care face difficulties: 1 in 2 kids who age out will develop a substance dependence; 1 in 4 won’t graduate from high school or get a GED; and 7 in 10 girls who age out will become pregnant before the age of 21.

The COVID-19 crisis has played a role in retaining families, Casey said.

“We’re serving more than 100 girls that are in foster and kinship care. It’s been harder to get the message out because of the pandemic. We haven’t had many new girls joining in the last year,” Casey said.

With the program coming at no cost to families, Casey says it allows girls and boys to sign up for opportunities without the added financial stress.

“Our resources are already strapped,” she said. “The grant covers the costs of membership and also provides girls with a uniform. That’s what is part of the sense of belonging: looking like everybody else.”

Casey said they hope the effort will give youth a sense of purpose as they enter adulthood.

“They’re going to meetings, they’re going on trips, they’re going camping, they’re making friends and learning new skills,” she said. “It’s a number of things.”

The West Virginia Council of Churches is also part of the grant partnership.