"That's true in just about every aspect of the court system ... there's very little community support," he said Wednesday.
Judges often struggle to choose the best placement for a child, relying on the subjective recommendations of guardians, social workers and others. The CANS tool will provide more comprehensive, objective information, he said.
"It's not an end-all, obviously," Cookman said, "but I think it's a good assessment tool and would give us a lot more information than the parties have actually ever had before. And they're all reading off the same page."
The state Department of Health and Human Resources supports a universal assessment tool, said agency spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman. But she said DHHR has not evaluated the possible costs of the bill, which must first go through the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.
Szafran says the costs would be minimal because Crittenton already has people ready to train others.
The CANS tool is used in several other states, she said, including Illinois and Maryland, and in Allegheny County, Pa., which includes the city of Pittsburgh.
"We've had it developed for our population, not urban New York City kids but West Virginia kids," Szafran said.
WVU will store the data that's collected, which could help give policy makers a better idea of what services are needed and where.
"Right now, we have patterns. We'll do community focus groups, but maybe 20 people show up for town meetings," Szafran said, "so we're not really getting a clear picture of the trends."
The database would also help colleges and universities customize educational programs to meet the state's needs, perhaps offering more master's degree programs in social work, for example.
"Historically, we bring in consultants to come into our state and tell us how to do behavioral services. They provide a beautiful report in a beautiful binder, and we all promptly stick it on the shelf," Szafran said. "This will give us hard data to see what's really going on with West Virginia kids."