CHARLESTON -– The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia and West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Children and Families had been collaborating for nearly two years in preparation for the second West Virginia Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) this week.
The federal review assesses West Virginia's performance in achieving safety, permanency, and well-being of children in the child welfare system. The first CFSR in 2002 resulted in a DHHR program improvement plan and statewide collaborative initiatives to improve the child welfare system.
The CFSR onsite review took place this week in Greenbrier, Harrison, Kanawha, Monroe, Pocahontas, and Summers Counties and culminated in a public exit conference at the Charleston Civic Center. The Supreme Court has collaborated with the DHHR to prepare for the review by providing information for the DHHR's statewide self-assessment and encouraging judicial participation in CFSR interviews.
Several representatives from the West Virginia court system will be reviewers, including Circuit Judge Derek C. Swope of Mercer County; retired Circuit Judges L.D. Egnor Jr. and James O. Holliday; and Supreme Court administrative staff members. State reviewers will be paired with federal reviewers to assess 65 DHHR cases, including about 20 involving court activity between April 1, 2007, and Sept. 15, 2008.
The results of this week's onsite review, as well as DHHR's data and statewide self-assessment report, will be considered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Children's Bureau (ACF) in determining whether the DHHR was in substantial conformity or needed improvement in achieving federal standards for safety, permanency, and well-being of children in the child welfare system. Performance in the CFSR affects millions of dollars of federal funding for children who receive services or are placed out of their homes by the DHHR.
"The Court is serious about protecting children," Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis said. "For the last several years, every aspect of the Court's proceedings has been thoroughly examined to ensure that no children are falling through the cracks."
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury noted that the Court recently created an entire division -– the Division of Children's Services.
"The purpose of the Division is to focus even more on ways the Court can keep our children safe, unharmed, and flourishing," Canterbury said.
In April this year, ACF conducted a review of West Virginia foster children who had been determined eligible for federal Title IV-E Foster Care Assistance. The review included 80 foster care cases receiving Title IV-E assistance between April 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2007. This was the fifth Title IV-E review that West Virginia has undergone.
Federal regulations require that the removal order must contain judicial determinations regarding whether the Bureau for Children and Families made reasonable efforts to preserve the family. The order must show that continuation in the home was contrary to the child's best interests in order to qualify for federal funds. For the first time since the beginning of the Title IV-E review process, no West Virginia foster child was found ineligible for IV-E foster care assistance because the court order placing that child in care did not contain the required language.
Court and DHHR collaboration has blossomed through the Court Improvement Program (CIP), which is funded through three ACF grants and matching contributions from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The CIP oversight board, led by Circuit Judge Gary L. Johnson of Nicholas County, includes four circuit judges, two family court judges, Supreme Court administrative staff, Bureau for Children and Family representatives, West Virginia Court-Appointed Special Advocate representatives, and others from an array of disciplines and perspectives. With its seven subcommittees, CIP has completed and is undertaking a number of projects geared at improving children's safety, timely permanency, and well-being.
More information about the Court Improvement Program is available at www.wvcip.com.