WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) — It’s a disheartening statistic; one that comes with a challenge. 

Youth in the Mountain State are at risk, according to the personal-finance website ‘WalletHub’ in its 2021 study. 

There was a study that found West Virginia was ranked top five in the country for the most at-risk youth.

Yeah, I would agree with that. In our experience with working with children and families across the state, that’s consistent with what we’re seeing. 

Denise Hughes, Programs Manager at the Children’s Home Society

Our state did not change. It’s been the same since 2011 in the highest risk category.” 

Betsy Bethel-McFarland, Communications Director for Youth Services System

But what is an at-risk youth? 

“Disconnected kids: Kids who aren’t working and who aren’t in school,” said Bethel-McFarland.

In the past year, Youth Services System in Wheeling has helped over 7,000 youth and their families. 

And in Parkersburg, the Children’s Home Society is seeing an increase in their transitional living across the state for homeless 16- to 21-year-olds 

“I blame a lot of that on COVID this past year because a lot of that population of youth tend to couch serf or move from home to home. And, with COVID a lot of folks just did not want that happening.” 

Denise Hughes, Programs Manager at the Children’s Home Society

Quoting ‘Kids Count’, 25 percent of West Virginia children are living in poverty opposed to 18 percent for the whole U.S. 

But these organizations look at the stats as say the fight must press on. 

The Children’s Home Society says its program, ‘Healthy grand families’ has really taken off. It’s a partnership with West Virginia State University, offering classes for grandparents raising grandkids. 

And YSS believes one of the most important things that helps a young person become successful in this life is watching another person do just that. Only four hours a month, you can mentor a child you’re matched with. 

“If we don’t say yes. If we shut children down, whether it is because we’re not taking care of their basic needs, or we’re not mentoring them, or we’re not seeing them through high school, then these kinds of stats are going to continue.” 

Betsy Bethel-McFarland, Communications Director for Youth Services System

One of those programs YSS is looking to fill right now is the ‘Youth opportunities unlimited’. It’s a year-round program to help 14 to 24-year-olds learn skills for the workforce. 

To call about that or mentorship opportunities, dial 304-218-2816.

For a look at the study, head here.