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West Virginia's foster care system is losing another top official with commissioner's exit

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's heavily burdened foster care system is losing another top official with the announcement Wednesday that Bureau of Social Services commissioner Jeffrey Pack will leave after nearly three years.

Gov. Jim Justice said at his weekly news briefing that he would appoint Pack as commissioner of the Bureau of Senior Services. Pack will replace Denise Worley, who left for a private sector job in May.

Pack is to remain in his current role until a replacement is hired.

Justice praised Pack's work since taking over the Bureau of Social Services in August 2021 to increase starting salaries for child protective services and youth services workers and lower turnover rates among child protective services staff, among other things. He also implemented a foster care dashboard in 2022.

"This is a superstar, in my book," Justice said.

Before becoming commissioner, Pack was appointed to the House of Delegates from Raleigh County in 2018 and then elected for two two-year terms, serving as chairman of the chamber's Health and Human Resources Committee.

Pamela Woodman-Kaehler, director of the foster care system's ombudsman office, announced her resignation last month. Her position was created by the state Legislature in 2019 to help investigate complaints and collect data about the state's foster care system.

Largely overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic in a state with the most overdose deaths per capita, West Virginia also has the highest rate of children in foster care — currently more than 6,000 in a state of around 1.8 million.

The state is facing a massive ongoing class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of foster care children in 2019. The suit alleged that children's needs were going unmet because of a shortage of caseworkers, an overreliance on institutionalization and a lack of mental health support.

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