CHARLESTON – Staff from the Administrative Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia recently were in Washington, D.C., to make a presentation at a national conference about the success of West Virginia's Child Abuse and Neglect Database.

Angela Saunders, Director of the Division of Court Services, and Autumn Johnson, the Court's Statistical Analyst, made a presentation Monday at the Eleventh Annual National Child Welfare Data and Technology Conference sponsored by the Child Welfare League of America. The conference June 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill was called "Making [it] Work: Achieving Safety, Permanency and Well-being for Youth." More than 400 program managers, system managers, agency administrators, and judges from around the country attended.

The purpose of the database is to determine how well child abuse and neglect cases are handled in West Virginia's court system. Evaluation methods have been adapted from national Court Improvement Program Guidelines and West Virginia's Child Abuse and Neglect Bench Book timelines. Evaluation is conducted quarterly and annually.

During 2006, the West Virginia Court Improvement Program Board transferred the child abuse and neglect database to an online database so the Court and the Board could better determine how child abuse and neglect proceedings are handled in West Virginia's judicial system. The project was supported by funds from the West Virginia Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

The database collects detailed records of all active child abuse and neglect cases in West Virginia. Previously, data were collected on paper forms and mailed to a third party agency for data entry. The new system has reduced the time and staff needed for data entry and reduced errors. The data include timeliness of case handling, placement and permanency.

Formats of the data entry forms have been changed to improve accuracy. For example, in the old database, if a case included a nontraditional family, the database was restrictive in the number of entries allowed for respondents. The new system allows for an infinite number of respondents per case.

Another revision allows all judges who work on a case to be noted, with the time period the case was on that judge's docket, instead of just having one judge listed.

The most frequent problem with the old system was blank or incomplete records. The new system will not create blank records. It also has prompts to help users enter all critical information.

The database is now a dynamic system that helps judges manage cases better and improves statistical reporting for administrative purposes.

"During my three years at the Court, there has been no higher priority than finding every way possible to keep West Virginia's children as safe as possible," Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said. "This is yet another positive development from Justice Robin Davis' focus on children during her two consecutive years as chief justice in 2006 and 2007."

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