West Virginia has agreed to expand mental health services for children after a federal investigation found the state unnecessarily institutionalized kids with emotional or behavioral disorders.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and West Virginia announced the agreement Tuesday at a news conference. The deal requires the state to develop and improve in-home and community-based mental health services to reduce the number of children in residential centers.
Federal investigators told West Virginia in 2015 that the state wasn't complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act by sending mentally ill children away to residential centers rather than providing treatment where they live.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division listed examples of children struggling to navigate the state's mental health care system.
He spoke about 10-year-old boy who was put in a psychiatric hospital and residential treatment facilities at least four times, worsening his condition, after his parents sought help for his mental health problems. He said a 14-year-old girl who couldn't get treatment in her community spent seven months in a segregated out-of-state facility, hours from her family, sleeping on an air mattress and taking cold showers.
"This is not a way for children to get better," Dreiband said.
Officials said West Virginia will focus on mobile crisis services, therapeutic foster care and in-home therapy. It also will come up with a plan to eliminate the unnecessary use of residential facilities for children who can be treated in their communities, they added.
"The goal of this agreement is that every family get the services they deserve," said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart.