Do more against abuse and neglect
When the authorities in West Virginia receive reports that children are in imminent danger because of physical abuse, state law requires that Child Protective Services personnel meet face-to-face with the youngsters within 72 hours. When less immediate threats are involved, the deadline is 14 days.
That happened in only half the child abuse or neglect cases during the 12-month period that ended about a year ago.
Legislative auditors reported that to Mountain State lawmakers this week, as part of an examination of the CPS process. Legislators might have been more shocked if some were not aware the situation is nothing new. “CPS has struggled for over 20 years” with the problem, according to the auditors.
One thing that has changed is the numbers. Drug abuse has resulted in a large increase in the number of child abuse/neglect cases. Since 2015, the number of referrals for that reason is up by 79 percent.
It needs to be noted that, by all appearances, most CPS caseworkers are doing the best they can. As legislative auditors noted, factors beyond CPS control sometimes make it impossible to meet the face-to-face contact deadlines. Among them is “not being able to track down the family” involved.
There are extenuating circumstances in some cases. As you may have noticed by reading the newspaper, many child abuse/neglect cases are uncovered by police and sheriff’s deputies who get imperiled youngsters to safety immediately, making the 72-hour requirement less critical.
Still, meeting the mandated face-to-face contact deadlines just 50 percent of the time is unacceptable.
Legislative auditors focused on one explanation for that: not enough CPS caseworkers. “High turnover rates and lack of retention continue to be an issue within (the Department of Health and Human Resources),” the auditors noted. Pay rates that are not competitive with the private sector and often, with adjacent states, are part of the problem. We suspect the stress of the job plays a role, too. Can you imagine the pressure of a position in which every day you go to work, you may have to save a child from his or her parents? We cannot.
Given the duration of the CPS challenge, it is clear resolving it will not be easy — or it would have happened by now. Perhaps a fresh start in addressing it could be made by asking CPS officials for a perfect-world scenario of what the Legislature can do to help. Making such changes occur is unrealistic, of course — but when the safety of children is involved, we need to come as close as humanly possible.