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DHHR: CPS referrals down 8,000 in 2020 due to pandemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers were told Tuesday there were more than 8,000 fewer referrals to Child Protective Services for child abuse and neglect cases in West Virginia in 2020 than 2019.

Jeremiah Samples

State Department of Health and Human Resources Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples told members of the House of Delegates Finance Committee the referrals were down from nearly 42,000 referrals in 2019 to 33,400 referrals in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Does that mean that all of the sudden the families in West Virginia are that much better and these kids are no longer at risk? I wish. But they weren’t going to school and a teacher couldn’t see they were malnourished or had bruises,” Samples said.

Teachers are the leading reporters of child and neglect cases to CPS. Schools closed last March because of the pandemic and the fall schedule was altered.

Samples said because there have been fewer referrals, there’s a surplus in the child welfare budget but he expects referrals to increase with counties back to school.

“The expenditures might be below where we think they will be because of COVID,” Samples said.

The decrease of referrals was one reason Gov. Jim Justice ordered schools back to in-person instruction in January. His move was backed by state School Superintendent Clayton Burch.

Clayton Burch

“CPS referrals have decreased, student social and emotional well-being has suffered, and one-third of our students have received failing grades in at least one core subject area,” Burch said in late December. “We simply have to get our students back in school, in-person.”

Samples also told the finance committee Tuesday the out-of-state placement of children with behavioral issues was down last year but that was also because of the pandemic.

“We’ve seen an overall decrease–we think because of the pandemic in the number of kids in child placement but the trend lines outside the pandemic were not working in our favor to reduce those numbers,” Samples said.

The legislature passed foster care legislation last year. Samples said most of the provisions have been implemented including higher daily payments to foster care placement agencies, foster parents and those considered non-certified kinship.

Samples said the DHHR plans to introduce legislation this session calling for a total review of the CPS system.

“One aspect of that is a workforce study that would look more closely at he infrastructure of CPS, the management of CPS but also the accountability of Child Protective Services,” Samples said.