Feds reach agreement with W.Va. after investigation finds state violating American with Disabilities Act

Published: May. 14, 2019 at 1:48 PM EDT
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An agreement has been reached by the Department of Justice and the state of West Virginia after a federal investigation found the state of West Virginia has been violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after institutionalizing children with mental health issues.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart and other federal officials, including from the Department of Justice, made that announcement during a news conference Tuesday morning.

The investigation, which wrapped up in 2015, found that West Virginia lacked sufficient in-home and community-based services for children who needed them. The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities, including children with mental illness, receive supports and services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

“In 2013, Department of Health and Human resources realized changes were needed to the state’s child welfare system and has been meeting with the Department of Justice for six years,” said Bill J. Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary.

The memorandum of understanding, signed by several parties, commits the state to make mental health services more available to children who need them, including things like in-home therapy and therapeutic foster care.

"Too often, children in need of treatment were, and presently are, sent out of state to locations that are difficult or near impossible for parents, mom's, dad's and caregivers to visit," Stuart said.

According to DHHR, West Virginia had one of the highest percentages of residential placement of children in the country. This means, many children were sent to a facility to receive mental health care.

The agreement states the goal is a 25 percent reduction from the number of children living in residential treatment facilities by December 2022.

According to Commissioner for the Bureau for Children and Families within DHHR Linda Watts, the department's goal is to keep children with families and in the community where they live. It would be a breach of contract for the state not to proceed and provide more community-based services. That agreement could be enforced in federal court if necessary, but officials at the press conference said they do not think court action will be necessary.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Resources said they have been working on improving the mental health system for children for the last few years, but the agreement legally binds them to keep moving in a positive direction.

The agreement states nothing in the settlement will override the right of a child, or their guardian if that child is a minor, to refuse service.

DHHR must provide an in implementation plan to federal officials within 120 days of the effective date of the settlement. The plan must outline the steps to ensure statewide access to programs and services, ensure adequacy of crisis response, address workforce shortages, develop outreach tools for medical professionals, develop quality assurance, reduce the number of children in residential treatment and evaluate the fidelity of child and family teams to the National Wraparound model. The agreement said the programs will be available statewide by October 2020.