WSAZ Investigates: 'Unprotective Services'
Systems in place to protect children are overloaded due to West Virginia's drug crisis.
That is why Anna Cunningham and her daughter traveled more than 300 miles from West Virginia to our nation's Capitol to bring attention to issues surrounding child protective services and other programs.
"We want the children of West Virginia to be safe and protected," Cunningham said. But that protection has been tested after two people working for CPS were arrested -- one on felony bribery charges and the other for contributing to the delinquency of a minor..
That is when WSAZ kept asking questions about how the these people got into these positions of trust.
Our investigation uncovered that the state of West Virginia does not require drug testing for any state employee, including those who work with children. Leaders say they do background checks, but they will not answer questions about how extensive they area.
WSAZ spoke with a mother from Boone County, who's identity we're protecting, a victim of a bribe attempt.
"I don't have no faith in them, especially with the kids that needs it," she said. "She also told me that if we told people, that she could make it worse on us."
State Police say Kelley Justice, who was working for CPS through a contracted agency, tried to get cash from families in exchange for making their cases "go away."
For eight weeks, between July and September, WSAZ reporter Jatara McGee reached out to the Department of Health and Human Resources and even the West Virginia Governor's Office more than a dozen times. She first requested a sit-down interview with DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch in July. For the following eight weeks, her emails, follow-up emails, phone calls and messages were all ignored or denied.
In the meantime, WSAZ uncovered another CPS employee's troubled past. While still working for Child Protective Services, West Virginia State Police say Dustin Kinser drove to Lincoln County and picked up a teenager, who he drove to his home and a hotel in Kanawha County. She was reported missing for days.
That run-in with the law was not his first. Before he was hired, he was charged with several crimes in the past, including felony breaking and entering in 2006. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in the case. The same year, a domestic violence petition was filed against him.
Investigators say a background check should have picked up on all the infractions. How did he get hired by the state to work with children? DHHR would not take our questions, so WSAZ then tried to take them to Gov. Jim Justice.
WSAZ reached out to the governor's office a day prior to schedule an interview immediately following a news conference scheduled for Friday Sept. 21. The governor's office said Justice would not be available. WSAZ explained that we would ask our questions during the allotted time for reporters to do so, at the end of every news conference.
Friday, Justice started his news conference with a disclaimer that he did not have time to take questions from reporters that day and would instead briefly discuss a few topics that may answer their questions.
This is what Justice said regarding Child Protective Services: "Other thing I can tell you is about the child protection stuff. There's too many kids that are out of homes. That's no good. We need to do better. We need to do a lot better. Bill Crouch -- It's a real complicated issue. Bill Crouch knows a whole lot more about it than I do and DHHR, and he can probably answer that a whole lot better than I."
Justice referred us back to the man he appointed to lead DHHR, Secretary Bill Crouch, the same person WSAZ had been trying to schedule an interview with for two months.
Our crew tried to tell the governor that on his way out of the room, but one of his staff members blocked their path and told them they could not question the governor as he was leaving.
WSAZ will keep searching for answers and attempting to ask those in charge tough questions, including about background checks and if the state will consider drug testing applicants.