Bill Crouch

DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch addresses members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources 

CHARLESTON —Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said the state is experiencing a child welfare crisis. 

In a Tuesday presentation to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability, Crouch said the DHHR is experiencing a record number of child protection referrals and removals from the home. 

According to the presentation, West Virginia leads the nation in children removed from the home and 48th in children in congregate care. He said children are coming into the system are younger with more complex physical and behavioral issues. 

Crouch said the Mountain State lacks adequate foster care families, adoption options, child protective service staff and other resources to manage the situation. 

He said the drug epidemic is the driving force in the child welfare crisis with about 80 percent of children removed coming from homes with substance abuse. In 2006, 970 kids were removed from the home due to drugs. Last year, 2,171 kids were removed from the home due to drugs. 

He said there is a problem finding placement for children. He said there are shortages in certain areas and said it is difficult to find placement for children older than 5 years-old. However, he said the department is pushing hard to reach out and find families. 

“We are actively recruiting and trying to recruit as many as we can,” he said. “We are looking at improvements in other areas as well. We do have a shortage and there are times staff has to stay with children until they can find placement.” 

Linda Watts, acting commissioner for the Bureau for Children and Families, said they do their best to find family members, or other kinship including teachers, coaches. She said they do safety checks and background checks on these individuals. She said they use relatives more often than foster care. 

He said another problem is CPS workers are overwhelmed because they have at times double the national average in children they are responsible for helping. 

“One of my biggest fears is funding,” Crouch said. “The problems mentioned with regard to the personnel system, we cannot hire people, even having a shortage. Even if we fix the problem by increasing the classifications and starting salaries to be competitive with the private sector, we don't have the money. … Our system is broken and it needs to be fixed.” 

He said the department is developing a methodology or a trigger of if a county falls below certain percentage, then it goes into crisis mode where the department works on recruitment.  The department also has developed a CPS reform strategy, is coordinating substance abuse resources to prioritize children and is improving relationships with the judicial branch to tackle the crisis. 

— Email: alannom@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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