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House Health chairwoman question show CPS reviews possible missteps

CHARLESTON — House Health Chairwoman Amy Summers is asking how the public’s representatives can learn more about a state agency’s responses to sensitive child protective services cases.

The question arose again following the discovery of two children locked in a shed at a Kanawha County home. Neighbors said CPS was contacted with concerns about the children, but the agency has not commented on whether that is true.

“In the news has been the pending criminal case involving the three juveniles in Sissonville,” Summers, R-Taylor, said Tuesday during a legislative interim meeting of the Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability.

Summers addressed a question about oversight to Dr. Cynthia Persily, incoming secretary, Department of Human Services.

“People ask us about that. Our constituents ask us about these types of things all the time. Can you explain to this committee what the process is when it’s brought to your attention? Were there any failures in the system? How do you go in and review that and determine if changes need to be made or not?”

Persily responded that if process failures exist, they would be reviewed.

“First of all, we know that our local supervisors are working directly with the CPS workers to assure they are adhering to the policy related to responding to complaints, responding to calls, that they’re doing that within the policy related to how much time that takes and completing investigations,” Persily said, going on to describe a timetable for all that to be done.

“So that’s the first level. The first level is really at the supervisor and worker level.”

That’s when Summers interjected: “So let me get this straight. So, if someone comes to you and says, ‘We want to make sure we didn’t miss anything. These children should have been removed,’ whatever the scenario may be. So the first step is, the supervisor in that area, whatever geography that is, that area reviews the case.”

Persily said that is true. “Typically that would be reviewed that day or the next day, if it’s brought as a problem.”

Then, Persily said, quarterly reviews include looking at a broad picture such as how many investigations have been completed within 30 days.

“So then, if we find that there are things that need to be changed, if there are policy changes that would be made, that’s when we would make those changes,” she said.

In a case where there was a specific failure, Persily said, “we would take action on that.”

This is not the first time lawmakers have grappled with questions about whether child protective services acted on a tip about dangerous situations.

Two years ago, then-Sen. Stephen Baldwin expressed serious concerns about whether authorities had responded seriously to a dental hygienist’s referral about a possible child abuse case.

In that situation, after the attempted referral, a Greenbrier County woman killed five young boys, set the family’s house on fire and then killed herself. One of the boys who died was the 4-year-old who had drawn the attention of the hygienist.