As it observes "The Year of the Child," the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has closed gaps in services for children with cases before the Family Courts and Circuit Circuits.

On March 16 the Court adopted a total of 16 changes and additions to legal rules governing child abuse and neglect proceedings, which were recommended by the federally-funded Court Improvement Oversight Board (CIB) in August, 2005.

The changes will go into effect June 1, 2006.

One new rule came about in light of issues arising from a case that was before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals during its fall 2005 term.

The case questioned which court -- Family or Circuit -- had authority to impose a child support obligation where the child was the subject of both a Family Court case and a child abuse and neglect proceeding.

Ultimately, the Court decided that the Circuit Court dealing with the custody and decision-making responsibility for the child as the result of an abuse or neglect petition has this authority.

Other changes made will help expedite investigations conducted by the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) into child abuse suspected and reported by the Family Court. The rules also allow for abuse and neglect matters to be heard in Circuit Court instead of Family Court, when necessary.

To see the complete list of rules, go to:

"We have acknowledged the problem and taken great strides to close every potential loophole," said West Virginia Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis.

Administrative director for the West Virginia Court system Steven Canterbury called the changes consistent with the courts' theme of accountability.

"We found an area where there were gaps in coverage regarding our children and remedied the problem," he said.

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