CHARLESTON – The Juvenile Justice Commission has issued findings of fact and recommendations from its July 27 public forum on changes to contracts involving youth shelters and residential providers.
The JJC issued the findings of fact on Aug. 22, concluding that it was deeply troubled with the testimony provided at the public forum.
“Furthermore, the commission has taken note that the Department of Health and Human Resources has been provided many opportunities and invitations to explain the aforementioned changes and has refused to do so, seemingly taking the position that no explanation is warranted to the judiciary, providers, educators and families among others.”
The JJC finds this position to be presumptuous and shortsighted, especially considering that judges, court officers, treatment providers, teachers and families are a critical and necessary part of determining the best treatment options for the individual child.
On March 8, the JJC voted unanimously to host a public forum and invite the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, providers and the public to allow the stakeholders to express the effects of these proposals and to give the DHHR an opportunity to discuss its position on fundamental changes to the child welfare system.
The all-day public forum was held on July 27 in the Senate Judiciary Committee and more than 75 people attended.
The DHHR was formally invited to the public forum, but publicly opted, through the press, not to appear or send a representative on its behalf.
Based upon the testimony of witnesses at the public forum and other documents reviewed and noting the absence of the DHHR to provide any testimony or provide a written statement in lieu of testimony, the Commissioners found that the proposed changes are a unilateral attempt, under the guise of contract negotiations, to make systemic changes to the care and treatment of West Virginia children.
“After preparing the proposed contract changes, the [DHHR] additionally sought, through a ‘State Plan Amendment,’ to amend the state’s Medicaid plan,” the findings document states. “Despite unprecedented collaboration between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government to reform the juvenile justice system in 2015, the Department independently proposed changes that will impact, and may violate the product of that collaboration: Senate Bill 393.”
The testimony revealed that the proposed changes were not developed through the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, were not enacted through legislation and the DHHR neither consulted with nor advised the Governor’s Oversight Committee on Juvenile Justice Reform prior to or during the proposed changes.
The DHHR had at least two opportunities on May 12 and Aug. 12 to mention the proposed changes to this committee and failed to do so.
The testimony also revealed that the proposed changes potentially violate West Virginia law and could cause a youth treatment and placement crisis and lead to an increase in juvenile incarceration.
The proposed changes are also cloaked in secrecy; could be detrimental to the state’s network of shelter and residential placements; increase safety concerns and may rapidly dismantle the state’s youth placement network; and potentially usurp judicial authority, according to the document.
“The Juvenile Justice Commission is also deeply troubled with the rapid and sweeping changes that the Department of Health and Human Resources intends to implement through contract negotiations with shelter and residential placement networks without thorough examination as to the financial ramifications and without proper infrastructure in place to serve the needs of the children in their communities,” the findings document states.
The DHHR should withdraw the State Plan Amendment submitted to the federal government until the financial ramifications are fully studied and understood and the DHHR should immediately suspend implementation of the new contracts.
The DHHR should disclose the computer matrix process that possibly eliminates judicial discretion and impacts the multidisciplinary process in determining the needed placement and services for the child.
“Any further changes to the process used to place at-risk children should be transparent and include input from providers, the judiciary, the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, legislators, the Governor’s Oversight Committee on Juvenile Justice Reform, the Commission to Study the Residential Placement of Children, the Juvenile Justice Commission and the Department of Education, all of whom are critical stakeholders in the juvenile justice system,” the findings document states.
The DHHR has been working toward changing its contracts with child shelters and residential service providers for some time. The JJC became aware of the proposals in February, but delayed holding a hearing because details of the draft contracts kept changing.