Tom Miller: State sees fewer active Child Protective Services cases
The Division of Child Protective Services in West Virginia -- a sub-agency in the Department of Health and Human Resources -- handled 1,569 child welfare cases in March of 2013, according to the latest data available from DHHR. On a more personal note, CPS workers took custody of a 2-year-old boy after he was found wandering alone in Charleston twice in two days earlier this month
Despite this deplorable incident where the 20-year-old mother was appropriately charged with child neglect creating a risk of injury, CPS statistics reveal that there are far fewer child abuse and neglect cases now in the state than there were six years ago. Back in 2007, the agency was handling an average of 2,300 cases per month.
DHHR records reveal that the number of active cases dropped steadily from 2008 to 2010 to as low as 1,483. But the trend started moving upward again and there was an average of 1,542 cases per month in 2012. These numbers include children removed from their homes as well as those cases where social workers placed the parents accused of abuse or neglect on improvement plans to remedy potentially dangerous situations in the youngster's home.
Under current state law, anyone can report suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services but certain individuals -- social workers, teachers, clergy, police and emergency medical services personnel -- are required by law to report these situations.
Marsha Dadisman, a spokeswoman for DHHR, told a reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail last week that the overall drop in active cases can be attributed to the state's Safety Assessment and Management System which established a three-step process for reviewing child protection cases three years ago.
The first step is a so-called "intake assessment" where a social worker interviews the individual who initiated the report. If that social worker determines that the child is not in danger, the family is referred to other resources to improve the situation.
But in cases where the child could be in danger, the second step is a "family functioning assessment" where the social workers interview the child, his or her siblings and parents, caregivers, any alleged abuser and other persons who might have information.
Current state law requires a CPS social worker to have face-to-face contact with the child within 72 hours in cases where the child is in imminent danger. In less threatening cases, they have 14 days to contact the child. Only in the drastic cases do the CPS workers remove children from their homes. And that can be done for a number of reasons, according to Toby Lester, child protective services policy specialist for the state's Bureau for Children and Families.
He said "it can run the gamut from physical injuries to lack of food -- any kind of behavior that is threatening to the child." But the agency prefers to place children with extended family members if possible. Placement with a foster family is a last resort -- as it should be.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is expected to make a decision by the end of its current term on June 19 as to whether or not Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is allowed to hire outside private attorneys to help his staff to litigate cases, particularly in the area of consumer protection.
Credit card companies and health care giant Glaxo-Smith-Kline argued these private attorneys working for the attorney general have a financial interest in winning these lawsuits that is contrary to the public role they are serving.
Mason County Circuit Judge David Nibert rejected this complaint by the companies last August. He ruled that the companies failed to provide sufficient proof of their claims and also that other courts on several occasions have upheld the attorney general's authority to hire outside attorneys.
Former Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw, who started this practice of using outside attorneys, was accused of selecting private attorneys at random to help in consumer protection cases. Morrisey has announced he will send out requests for proposals when private attorneys are needed.
A new law passed at the regular 2013 session of the West Virginia Legislature that doesn't go into effect until July 12 will expand this state's ability to collect taxes on so-called "e-commerce." It is expected to generate as much as $7 million to $10 million annually in additional state general tax revenue.
A study by the University of Tennessee last year came up with an estimate of up to $198 million that this state was due in sales taxes from e-commerce. But another study concluded that figure was excessive and the figure was closer to $30 million. And this new law is only going to capture a fraction of those potential tax receipts. It does figure, however, to include the Internet's largest retailer, Amazon. com, because that company does have a customer service center in Huntington.
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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