Within a matter of days of being appointed as Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) in July 2013, I was tasked with a comprehensive review of my department based on an audit of DHHR conducted in 2012. My team and I recognized there were needed improvements to be made and we took immediate action to change the course of DHHR.
I’ve made it my mission to create and reform programs at DHHR that measure outcomes with results that will move the needle in a positive direction to improve family stability and child welfare. Historically, our state has removed more children from the home due to abuse, neglect, and juvenile proceedings and has one of the highest percentages in the nation of children placed in congregate care settings. For the past two years, my team and I have been working diligently to implement plans to turn these statistics around. In collaboration with the Courts, the Legislature, providers and families, we must continue this progress.
DHHR has worked closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) during its assessment and intends to continue to collaborate with the federal government and other stakeholders as we move forward. The DOJ assessment only strengthens our resolve to continue improving West Virginia’s child welfare system. Looking to the future, we are committed to establishing a strong foundation at DHHR for our successors to build upon.
DHHR improvement efforts include several strategies and the Department has made significant progress in implementing these initiatives over the past two years. Some of these efforts include:
- The Bureau for Children and Families (BCF) was awarded a federal IV-E Waiver in October 2014 to allow the Department more flexibility in delivering services to children and their families. The inflexibility of the federal government’s rules created significant barriers and had to be addressed. Through this waiver, BCF is working to reduce its reliance on residential care placement with a demonstration project called Safe at Home West Virginia. The Department’s goals with Safe at Home are to provide wrap around services to children within their own communities to ensure they are healthy, safe and successful.
- DHHR is a partner in the Three Branch Institute on Child Social and Emotional Well-being, a comprehensive initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the National Center for State Courts, and Casey Family Programs. The Three Branch Institute brings representatives from the Judicial, Executive and Legislative branches of government together to develop a plan to improve the well-being of children in foster care. Toward this goal, the West Virginia Core Team, made up of more than 70 public and private stakeholders, has formed work groups to assess issues and explore options. The work groups are examining topics including a foster child’s access to medical and behavioral health services, timely and comprehensive health screenings, utilization of psychotropic medications for children in congregate and foster care, ways to safely reduce out-of-home placements, and reduction of the incidence of drug addicted babies placed in out-of home care.
- The Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities (BHHF) has developed prevention and early intervention supports and expanded community based mental health services for children and families. BHHF has also realigned provider funding to ensure that necessary child services are available in communities across the state.
- The Bureau for Medical Services has expanded access to mental health services for children and families, including implementation of Medicaid expansion, integration of behavioral and physical health into a care coordination model; development of health home pilots; and enhancement of telepsychiatry codes.
- The Bureau for Public Health (BPH) has encouraged positive parenting and promoted child development through programs such as the Home Visitation Services program, which supports pregnant women and families and helps parents develop the skills needed to raise children who are physically, socially and emotionally healthy and ready to learn. BPH also oversees the coordination of services for children who have a delay in their development for the state’s nationally recognized Birth To Three Program. The number of children served in this program has increased over the past two years.
Allison C. Adler, DHHR Communications Director, Allison.C.Adler@wv.gov, 304-558-7899