UPDATE: Lawmakers call for change after WSAZ Investigation about CPS
West Virginia lawmakers weighed in with disbelief, frustration and even outrage after our WSAZ Investigation: "Unprotective Services," which dug into problems with the vetting process at Child Protective Services.
"It's a shocking story," one noted.
"I am appalled," another said, while several lawmakers called for change.
WSAZ first started looking into the vetting process after two people working for CPS were arrested in separate cases a few weeks apart.
WSAZ spoke with nearly a dozen lawmakers Tuesday, including four members of the House of Delegates on camera.
Some say drug testing, which WSAZ uncovered and is not currently a requirement for CPS applicants and employees, should be required.
"At least it's a start, if you have an individual that has a drug habit that would do anything to get money," Delegate Rodney Miller (D-Boone) says. "At least that's one element that you can weed out."
Del. Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) is not convinced drug testing would have a significant impact on vetting but says the focus should be on creating a better applicant pool and creating more of an incentive for qualified, hard-working CPS workers to want to stay with the state agency.
"Somebody once said don't tell me what you care about, show me your budget. The fact of the matter is it's a tough position to fill. What we need to do is make sure that we make it a job that people want to work," Pushkin says.
Other lawmakers gave perspective about the factors leading to an overwhelmed agency.
"I don't think you can put a price tag on something like that, for us to protect our local children, protect our children by going to the extent of paying someone that has a four-year degree greater than 30,000 dollars a year when they're working 60-80 hours a week," Del. Andrew Robinson says.
Del. Pushin says DHHR and Child Protective Services specifically have been trying to warn lawmakers that the agencies need help, particularly in the last year.
"DHHR and Child Protective Services have been coming before committees in the legislature and warning us about this issue and really no action has been taken," he says.
Several lawmakers offered solutions.
"Think that what you have done, exposing what is happening with our children in West Virginia, will make the legislature come to grips with what happened," Del. Charlotte Lane says, "Come up with the money and we will, and pass a law that requires drug testing and federal background checks."
Delegate Brad White said, I don’t know the full vetting process when it comes to CPS workers. When it comes to our kids, there cannot be enough vetting and things need to change. I also feel that if we are going to impose something as a lawmaker, you should be willing to subject yourself to that as well, such as background checks and drug testing, which I am."
Others acknowledged the complexity of the issue and pledged to make the issues with CPS a priority in the upcoming session.
"It's a complex question with probably more complex answers. 'How do we get there?' That is the question. But I think you're going to see a more motivated session of lawmakers to try to fix this," Del. Miller says.
"I don't think you can put a price tag on something like that," Del. Robinson said.
Several lawmakers also critiqued state leaders for refusing to take questions from WSAZ prior to the story airing.
"Quite frankly, appalled that we haven't had a response from the highest levels of state government," Del. Lane says. "You have uncovered a few instances of wrongdoing. Think what else is out there. We need to be more vigilant."
A representative with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources emailed WSAZ reporter Jatara McGee Tuesday, agreeing to an interview Wednesday morning. WSAZ has been requesting a sit-down interview since July, but all requests for ignored or denied.
WSAZ also looked into the vetting process for Child Protective Services workers in Kentucky and Ohio.
Officials in Kentucky say CPS employees are not drug tested before hiring or during employed.
In Ohio, answering the drug test question is a little tougher. WSAZ reached out to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. They tell us local public children services agencies put their own policies in place for employees. Ohio is a state-supervised but county-administered state, where the local child welfare agencies have control, according to a spokesperson.
"West Virginia and Kentucky are both state-administered child welfare systems. Their child welfare staff are all state employees. As a county-administered state, the human resources functions for Ohio's child welfare system are handled at the county level; however, there are overarching state requirements for criminal records checks, qualifications and training requirements for child welfare caseworkers set forth in state law and policy," the spokesperson tells WSAZ.