DHHR cannot comment on high-profile child neglect case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This week’s discovery of two children locked in a shed at a Kanawha County home has landed those two children along with three others in the custody of West Virginia’s Division of Child Protective Services.

The adoptive parents of all five children, Ronald Lantz and Jeanne Whitefeather, face charges of felony child neglect.

Although neighbors claimed Child Protective Services had been contacted with concerns about the children, the agency was unable to confirm if that were true. MetroNews asked agency leaders if they had been called to the home on Cheyenne Lane in Sissonville at any point prior to Monday’s intervention by Kanawha County Sheriff’s Deputies. The official agency response was the wording of state code.

“WV Code 49-5-101 prohibits the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) from providing any information on children.”

“The role of DHHR’s Child Protective Services (CPS) is to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect when the allegations are against a parent, guardian or custodian. Child safety is paramount in all CPS investigations. Additional information can be found in DHHR’s Child Protective Services Policy.”

Delegate Amy Summers, R-Taylor, is chair of the House Health Committee and also serves as chair of the Health and Human Resources Accountability Committee. She indicated lawmakers get a similar response as they inquire about such matters.

Amy Summers

“I think they’re being honest because they really do need to evaluate all the processes that went forward. When they were called, what did they find, did they follow protocol as they were supposed to? I think it does take a little bit of time,” she said.

But Delegate Summers added lawmakers need to be more connected to those situations than the present law allows.

“We feel like we need to have more oversight than we are allowed in statue so we’re going to change that,” she said.

Summers said she expected the matter to be discussed at the next interim committee meetings and believed it would result in legislation to be presented to the regular session next year.

“We’re going to propose a bill that allows a special investigation committee out of our Legislative Oversight Committee so that we can be made abreast of what’s going on,” she said.

The special investigation committee would be privy to more information about specific cases, but would also be bound under the same constraints of confidentiality as the agency to protect children involved. According to Summers, allowing a few key members of the Legislature closer to the process would remove any perception of problems and allow more oversight and confidence in the agency without violating the privacy rights of children.

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