MUD FORK — Senate members of the Select Committee on Children and Poverty held at child poverty forum Tuesday night at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. The well-attended event provided the public the opportunity to voice their opinions on the causes and cures to fight childhood poverty in West Virginia.
According a Children’s Defense Fund fact sheet dated March 20, 2013, there are 385,994 children in West Virginia. The number of children living in poverty is 97,677 (25.8%) and children living in extreme poverty number 44,194 (11.7%).
The majority of those who spoke to the committee were of the opinion that drug abuse was a major factor to children’s poverty. Three people, all who testified to the fact of abusing drugs, spoke for the need for drug rehabilitation centers within the county. All three were participants in a drug recovery program and have been drug free for more than three months.
Logan County Administrator Rocky Adkins said the considered that everyone was made up of three parts — mind, spirit and body.
“All three of those are what makes a person whole,” Adkins said. “The problem with our children is that all three of those are not being met.”
Adkins said a child can’t learn if it is hungry.
“We have a lot of programs going on to sustain that need; to feed them so that they can learn,” Adkins said. “But the issue is that they go to school and sometimes that is the only food they actually get because their parents may be on some type of drug — abusing drugs — and they are spending all their income for drugs and the children are not being fed.”
Adkins said he has been personally working and helping in other counties in setting up drug recovery centers.
“I’m there because I want to learn how to set one up in Logan County,” Adkins said. “It is my job to pay bills to transport someone to another part of the state because we don’t have the facilities in Logan… or the immediate area… for them to go to. There is such a shortage and a waiting list for those services.”
Adkins said Logan County will be assessing the current and future needs for housing.
“We have children who are growing up in totally substandard housing,” Adkins said.
Others voiced their opinions on the need for more job opportunities for parents, sex education in the school system to help prevent teenage pregnancies and mental and physical needs.
Reginald Jones, director of PRIDE Inc., thanked the committee for their work on child poverty, before he addressed the people attending the forum.
“Organizations, groups, churches, and organizations such as mine has gotten into the habit of working out of silos. This is what we do and this is what we’ve done for years and this is what we will continue to do,” Jones said. “When we’re addressing an issue as large and as great as child poverty, those walls and those barriers have to come down because it is going to take a collaborative effort for us to be able to make any difference and make an effective impact. Let’s continue to work together to break down those barriers. Let’s start looking at ourselves in terms of assets and not deficiencies. Let’s stop looking at what we don’t have and at what people can come and give us; but let’s look at what we do have and what our assets are and at what each organization can bring to the table to contribute to address this problem… this issue of child poverty.”
Sen. Unger said he considered the forum successful.
“We had a lot of people that shared with us their life experiences and their ideas. Great hospitality the community showed to the Select Committee on Children and Poverty,” Unger said. “I thought there were a lot of ideas, but there was one theme that was over and over… was the need for recovery. But from a holistic point of view, not just rehab centers but looking at the entire aspect. Creating jobs, looking at recovery centers for those who are on drugs and looking at programs for 16 to 25 year-olds in the workforce investment… there were a lot of great ideas came from this.”
Unger said other meetings have been held throughout the state that centered on child nutrition and affordable housing.
“They all had different themes, but a commonality — how to address the needs of a child. I am convinced that if you address the needs of a child, that child is then able to develop into a healthy adult. A happy child makes a happy family; healthy families make a healthy community; healthy communities make a healthy state,” Unger said. “So starting with a child and working our way out we can create a better West Virginia. And it is starting right here in Logan County with what is happening with the faith-based community with HEAL (Help Eliminate Addictions in Logan). The churches are banding together and taking back their communities. There is a spirit running through Logan County that I want to learn more about and to replicate across the state of West Virginia.”
Additional speakers included Brandon Dennison, Executive Director of the Coalfield Development Corporation; Maj. Richard Ojeda, president of LEAD Community Organization; Randy Keathley, superintendent of Mingo County Schools; Robin Weiner and Teresa McClune.
For more information on the Select Committee on Children and Poverty visit www.legis.state.wv.us/committees/senate/SenateCommittee.cfm?Chart=scp, www.youtube.com/wvsenate
— The Children’s Defense Fund fact sheet contains the most recent data as of March 20, 2013. Most of the data are from 2011 and 2010. For more information, visit www.childrensdefense.org/cits.