CHARLESTON — As the state continues to reform its foster care system, two organizations in Cabell County caring for foster youth in West Virginia are among the first in the state to meet the new rigorous standards to receive federal funding under the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Cammack Children's Center and Pressley Ridge, along with four residential treatment programs in other parts of the state, have met the standards to be a designated qualified residential treatment program, or QRTP, said Laura Barno, director of Family First Implementation at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, on Monday during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health. The six facilities have a combined 40 beds.

Under Family First, which was passed last year, group homes can only receive a Title IV-E reimbursement for two weeks unless they are a QRTP, which must follow an approved, trauma-informed model of care, or if they serve a few specific populations of youth, such as pregnant teens. QTRPs will house children with more severe emotional and behavioral problems.

To be an approved QRTP, homes must meet standards set by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families clearinghouse.

Barno said the division is working with other treatment centers in the state and will have a second phase of applications within the year.

During the committee meeting, legislators raised concerns about only having 40 beds while approximately 400 children are being housed out-of-state.

Barno said the hope is other changes through Family First and the state's new memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice will reduce the number of children living in residential treatment facilities.

The goal of Family First is to keep more children in the home by placing more emphasis and funding on community and in-home services that work with families at-risk of entering the child welfare system. Title IV-E funds, come October, can be used to take a parent to substance use disorder treatment, for example.

This will pair with a new Children with Serious Emotional Disorders waiver which will also provide more services to families struggling before they reach their breaking point, said Cindy Beane, with DHHR.

Beginning in January, the waiver will be available for up to 500 children, increasing to 2,000 by 2022. Beane said youth in psychiatric treatment facilities and residential treatment facilities will be prioritized.

The waiver would pay for services such as in-home family therapy, crisis response, case management, specialized therapy, job development and non-medical transportation.

Beane said an example of who might qualify is a teen with bipolar disorder who is struggling in school or a child with depression who cuts himself or herself. Beane said 30% of children in DHHR's Safe at Home program qualify for the waiver.

"Speaking from personal experience, I had a friend who was struggling with her teenage daughter," Beane said. "She got to the point where it was just 'I can't do this anymore.' If we had these services, it might not have gotten to that point."

All of this coincides with the state's new memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice. In 2015, the DOJ determined the state was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act because it was removing too many children with disabilities from their home. In May, DHHR and the DOJ entered into a memorandum of understanding which states DHHR is committed to continuing efforts to provide more community services and to ensure they are accessible statewide.

As part of this plan, DHHR is committed to reducing the number of children living in residential treatment facilities by 25% by Dec. 31, 2022, and in the following two years the department will strive for the national average, said Cammie Chapman, general counsel for DHHR.

During the committee meeting, legislators also heard an update on DHHR's transition to a managed care model for foster children. Five organizations have indicated interested, said DHHR deputy secretary Jeremiah Samples. Bids will open in August and a decision will be made by September. The contract will total about $200 million.

The managed care organization will manage healthcare and services for 19,000 individuals. Socially necessary services have been carved out from the MCO's functions for the time being after several comments from the public expressing concerns about how those would be handled, Samples said.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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