The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has found the state of West Virginia in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it comes to providing services to children with significant mental health conditions. The Justice Department holds that the state has a very high rate of placements into segregated residential facilities both in and outside of state. DOJ found that the state could address this by providing the needed, and required, in-home and community-based services. The findings sighted in a just-posted letter to Governor Tomblin describes how children are placed through the juvenile justice, child welfare and Medicaid systems despite the use of Multidisciplinary Teams that make recommendations to the courts.
DOJ says that children are at higher risk because of the lack of in-home and community based services and that some of the most vulnerable children are: status offenders (JJ), LGBTQ youth, trauma-exposed children, children with both mental health and intellectual disabilities, minority children, older children and children previously placed.
Among the failures are an underutilization of Medicaid, failure to collaborate between agencies and failure to engage families in their communities. The letter lists some effective tools that could be used or are used in limited fashion in the state including the use of Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC).
Despite the goal of some Washington policymakers and advocates to time-limit Title IV-E foster care in congregate settings as a way to reduce state use of such placements such a tool may not have impact in West Virginia. According to recent surveys West Virginia gets only a small fraction ($18 million out of $165 million) of its federal child welfare funds from Title IV-E foster care. Instead the state relies on TANF and SSBG ($120 million of the $165 million) to fund child welfare meaning that more than 70 percent of their federal dollars have considerable flexibility.
DOJ makes nine recommendations to West Virginia to reduce the placements into residential care and indicates that they are seeking a mutual, written and enforceable agreement to remedy the situation or legal action will be taken.