Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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WV State News

February 27, 2013

Bill aims to better evaluate troubled W.Va. kids

(Continued)

But communities, particularly in the most rural and least populated areas, typically lack a sufficient safety net of foster care, adoptive families, in-home services and community-based prevention and treatment programs for addicted parents and their children.

Cases of abuse and neglect clog the criminal court system, their numbers doubling in less than a decade. Troubled kids often skip school, use drugs, become violent and commit crimes, further burdening the justice system.

Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, was for years chief judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit covering Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties, and saw those cases firsthand. Now he's the lead sponsor on the legislation.

"That's true in just about every aspect of the court system ... there's very little community support," he said Wednesday.

Judges often struggle to choose the best placement for a child, relying on the subjective recommendations of guardians, social workers and others. The CANS tool will provide more comprehensive, objective information, he said.

"It's not an end-all, obviously," Cookman said, "but I think it's a good assessment tool and would give us a lot more information than the parties have actually ever had before. And they're all reading off the same page."

The state Department of Health and Human Resources supports a universal assessment tool, said agency spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman. But she said DHHR has not evaluated the possible costs of the bill, which must first go through the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.

Szafran says the costs would be minimal because Crittenton already has people ready to train others.

The CANS tool is used in several other states, she said, including Illinois and Maryland, and in Allegheny County, Pa., which includes the city of Pittsburgh.

"We've had it developed for our population, not urban New York City kids but West Virginia kids," Szafran said.

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