CHARLESTON -– Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis spoke Oct. 30 to the 15th annual Conference of the West Virginia Children's Justice Task Force at the Charleston Civic Center.
The task force is a made up of representatives of public and private agencies committed to protecting children from abuse and neglect. The task force focuses on statewide policy and legislation to improve the investigation, administration and judicial handling of abuse and neglect cases. One goal is to make the legal process less traumatic for victims.
Davis has made children's justice the focus of both of her most recent years as chief justice, the "Year of the Child" in 2006 and the "Year of the Child, Too" in 2007. She will talk about some of the Supreme Court's initiatives during her most recent tenure as chief justice.
Davis is a native of Boone County. She received her bachelor's degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1978 and her master's degree and law degree from West Virginia University in 1982. She was engaged in the private practice of law in Charleston from 1982 until 1996, concentrating on the fields of employee benefits and domestic relations. She was elected in 1996 to an unexpired term on the West Virginia Supreme Court and re-elected to a full twelve-year term in 2000. She is the only woman who has ever been re-elected to statewide office in West Virginia.
Davis previously served as chief justice in 1998 and 2002. She is the most senior member of the Supreme Court.
Here are her prepared remarks:
I want to welcome you all to Charleston and to this very important conference.
As you may know, I have made children the focus of both of my most recent years as chief justice. Let me tell you just a few things the Supreme Court has done during the "Year of the Child" in 2006 and the "Year of the Child, Too" in 2007.
In March 2006, the Supreme Court adopted sixteen changes to the legal rules governing child abuse and neglect proceedings. The changes closed gaps between the work of Family Courts and Circuit Courts. They also expedited Department of Health and Human Resources investigations in abuse and neglect cases reported by Family Courts. In September 2006 the Supreme Court received two federal Court Improvement Program grants to help us collaborate with the DHHR to improve management of child abuse and neglect cases.
The two new grants are making a significant difference in West Virginia's ability to manage child abuse and neglect cases, because they are paying for more training and improvements in data systems and data collection.
For example, the court system last year began automating record-keeping. Previously, information was collected on paper forms and mailed to a third-party agency for data entry. The new system should reduce the time and staff needed for data entry, and it should reduce errors.
Nearly 4,600 records were entered into the database between July 2006 and the end of the first quarter in 2007. The information includes the time it takes to handle cases, placement and permanency, so you can see how important it is to get it right, and get it fast.
As you know, child abuse and neglect has many causes. The West Virginia Supreme Court also is trying to do what we can to address two potential causes – domestic violence and drug abuse.
Just last month the Supreme Court received an $815,000 federal grant that will allow our Administrative Office to work with the State Police, the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and state agencies to improve the way courts handle domestic violence protective orders.
We're also trying to expand the network of Drug Courts throughout West Virginia. The West Central Drug Court Diversion Program opened in June to serve Wood and Wirt Counties. It's the third drug court for adults in our state. The others serve the Northern Panhandle and Mercer County.
West Virginia's first two juvenile drug court diversion programs also opened this year. The Cabell County program re-opened in August and the Wayne County program opened in September. The hope is that if we can reach juveniles whose crimes are related to drug problems and give them the help they need, they won't turn into adult drug addicts or adult criminals.
I hope you can see by these few examples that the Supreme Court is committed to doing all we can to improve the legal process in child abuse and neglect cases so the court system is not responsible for inflicting more trauma on children who have already been through so much.
And we are doing what we can to address the root causes of abuse and neglect, so that other children may be spared.