CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The list of issues found within Child Protective Services, which provides help to kids who are neglected or abused in West Virginia, is long.
A legislative audit focused on CPS, which is part of the Bureau for Children and Families in the state Department of Health and Human Resources, was detailed at the State Capitol earlier this week during August interims for lawmakers.
The report found a high staff turnover, delays in investigations, shortfalls in recruiting and retaining workers and little willingness to change.
“I was appalled by it,” Senator Donald Cookman (D-Hampshire, 15) said of the audit’s findings. Before retiring, he spent a lot of time on child neglect and abuses cases as a judge in the 22nd Judicial Circuit comprised of Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties.
“It’s not really flashy and doesn’t attract some people, but it is so important and it takes up the majority of any circuit judge’s time who deals with abuse and neglect.”
At times in recent years, the audit found West Virginia has lead the nation in child deaths tied to abuse.
When cases are reported, those with CPS have 14 days to respond. That window closes to 72 hours if a child is believed to be in danger. However, the audit found in 2011 those minimum thresholds were routinely not met across West Virginia.
Cookman said the CPS workers should not shoulder the blame for that. He said they’re doing one of the most difficult jobs in the state.
“They’re underpaid. They’re overworked,” he said. “I can’t imagine going to the places that they go to and trying to work with the families and, then when they have to take the child out of the home, what they have to go through there.”
Susan Hage, the interim commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families, told lawmakers Wednesday the report is being taken seriously and changes are already being made based on its 14 recommendations.
One of those recommendations deals with the creation of a centralized intake system so cases of abuse and neglect can be better monitored.
The CPS review is a component of a larger review of the state Department of Health and Human Resources.