MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Groups that work with troubled West Virginia children want lawmakers to support a bill requiring all state agencies to use a standardized evaluation tool that they say could help ensure more effective placements and treatments while also improving inter-agency communication.
Supporters say the West Virginia Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths assessment has already been tailored to meet the needs of the largely rural state and will help ensure the many agencies that deal with kids in crisis are working from the same playbook.
Kathy Szafran, chief executive officer of Crittenton Services Inc. in Wheeling, wrote the legislation that grew from meetings of the West Virginia Child Care Association last year. It will help ensure children get the care they most need, she said, whether they're in residential treatment, foster care or a juvenile justice facility.
It will also generate data for a statewide database that West Virginia University would maintain to help policy makers, colleges and universities, and others spot trends then identify what resources are needed in different regions.
Troubled children come into state care through many different channels, she said, yet agencies have no uniform method of communicating or evaluating their needs.
"And these kids don't fit into the silos we've developed," she said, noting many have suffered previously unreported trauma that affected their behavior and put them on a path to the child-welfare system
The CANS tool, developed by the Illinois-based Praed Foundation, is a functional assessment that looks at the child holistically. It evaluates what's happening in the home and many other aspects of their environments, Szafran said, "not just the child's IQ or personality traits."
Last year, a national study found that children are dying from abuse and neglect at a higher rate in West Virginia than any other state, a problem that judges, social workers and others say is fueled by rampant substance abuse in families.
But communities, particularly in the most rural and least populated areas, typically lack a sufficient safety net of foster care, adoptive families, in-home services and community-based prevention and treatment programs for addicted parents and their children.
Cases of abuse and neglect clog the criminal court system, their numbers doubling in less than a decade. Troubled kids often skip school, use drugs, become violent and commit crimes, further burdening the justice system.
Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, was for years chief judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit covering Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties, and saw those cases firsthand. Now he's the lead sponsor on the legislation.