West Virginia officials and the U.S. Department of Justice announced they’ve reached a settlement after an investigation found West Virginia to be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The state was found to have too many children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders in out-of-state residential facilities. The settlement will bring those children in state over the next five years.
At a press conference, officials called the agreement “landmark” and said that it will affect generations to come.
“The agreement commits West Virginia to expand services for children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
“[This is] so they can remain in their communities and live with their families or foster families while receiving the mental health services they need instead of having to live in segregated residential facilities, often far from home, to receive such services,” Dreiband continued.
West Virginia had one of the highest rates of youth in out-of-state residential treatment programs when the Justice Department investigation began. That’s partly because there weren’t enough local services to serve the kids who needed them. The agreement is intended to return those kids to their home communities while also beefing up local resources to provide care for them.
Dreiband said the state will do that by increasing in-home and community-based mental health services. The agreement stipulates that children who are currently in residential treatment programs be reintegrated into their family homes and communities, if that is what the family, guardian, or older, legal teen desires.
The settlement will completely overhaul the way West Virginia approaches child mental and behavioral health.
Any young person who enters the state youth services through the child welfare or juvenile justice system will be screened with a yet-to-be-developed standardized mental health screening tool. Children who need counseling or support services are to be immediately referred. However, the Justice Department acknowledges that building up that network will take time.
“We don’t expect West Virginia to do the impossible here,” Dreiband said. “On the other hand, what we have found – and several studies have found – is these community-based settings tend to be more efficient and less expensive than these residential treatment centers. So our hope is that the state will be able to bring these children back closer to their families and closer to their communities rather than remotely located.”
The state has five years to reach the goals outlined in the settlement. To pay for the new initiative, the state is in the process of applying for a Medicaid waiver. More funding for wraparound mental health services is also expected to be discussed in the upcoming legislative special session.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.