The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) today filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia a motion to dismiss the complaint filed in Jonathan R. et al. v. Justice et al. (Case No. 19-cv-00710), by A Better Childhood, a New York-based advocacy group, against the State of West Virginia.
“We will not be distracted by this lawsuit,” stated Bill J. Crouch, Cabinet Secretary of DHHR. “Substantive changes have been made, and are continuing to be made, to the state’s child welfare system with the help of the West Virginia Legislature and many experts in the field. We continue to move forward with critical initiatives to improve family stability and ensure the well-being of the children of our state.”
After two years of discussions and negotiations with the US Department of Justice, DHHR in May of 2019 entered into a partnership with the US Department of Justice by signing a Memorandum of Understanding
with the goals of serving children with serious mental health conditions in the most appropriate integrated setting, expanding community-based mental health services and reducing the number of children in residential mental health treatment facilities.
“This lawsuit was filed by some New York-based law firm that not once contacted the leadership at DHHR, never attempted to ask us what we were doing with regard to child welfare, and never once attempted to engage in discussions with DHHR prior to filing this suit. The issues they raise are generally those the Department has already publicly reported to the Legislature and is working to resolve with the input of the Department of Justice, our local stakeholders, the West Virginia Judicial Branch, and the West Virginia Legislature,” said Crouch. “For an out-of-state group to sue the State of West Virginia to take over our child welfare system is offensive to the many federal, state, and community partners who have worked tirelessly to transform and improve our system.”
The State of West Virginia has taken determined, innovative steps in recent years to improve its child welfare system and advance the goal of keeping children receiving services safely in their home communities rather than through residential mental health treatment facilities. DHHR has worked hard to secure federal approval for and implementation of the Safe at Home West Virginia waiver; has applied and fully expects approval for the Children with Serious Emotional Disorders waiver; is an early adopter regarding implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act; has awarded a contract to secure a managed care organization to coordinate health care and social services for children in foster care; and has hired a Foster Care Ombudsman to monitor and report on West Virginia’s child welfare system.
Moreover, DHHR has worked to increase the Child Protective Services (CPS) workforce and improve recruitment and retention for these critical positions. DHHR added 60 CPS positions throughout the state in the last year in areas where caseloads were high, and has budgeted for additional CPS workers in the upcoming budget. DHHR has also increased salaries a total of 20% for CPS workers over the last two years and included additional increases and changes to benefits for CPS workers in the upcoming budget.
“West Virginia’s children are our number one priority,” concluded Crouch. “We are making significant progress in our reform efforts and we will not slow down.”