The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

March 31, 2013

State takes ‘New View’ for foster care

Objective is finding permanent homes for 50 children

MORGANTOWN — Two branches of government that try to help troubled West Virginia kids but often function as adversaries are teaming up on a project to find permanent homes for 50 foster children.

The New View initiative involves seven attorneys picked by the state Supreme Court and dozens of cold cases chosen from an initial pool of 200 at the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The program is modeled after one in Georgia and is designed to put fresh eyes on the toughest cases, said Nikki Tennis, director of the Division of Children’s Services for the state court system. On average, most West Virginia children are in foster care less than 12 months, according to the DHHR. But many bounce around the system for years — some to as many as 15 temporary homes.

Georgia was able to find permanent homes for about half of the “cold cases” it reviewed, Tennis said, and court officials are hopeful the West Virginia team will have similar or better results. If it does, the courts may continue the New View program.

The “viewers” will be trained in April, and then they will investigate each child’s case. At the end of the year, team members will produce reports on each child and a statistical report on all 50 that could offer guidance to the courts and the DHHR.

The work will not only recap the project, Tennis said, but identify potential patterns. If it finds bureaucratic barriers, communication failures or other systemic shortcomings, for example, the courts could recommend changes in rules, policies, practices or laws.

Gretchen Lewis, a Charleston attorney and former DHHR secretary who will be part of the team, said the report won’t be about pointing fingers.

“The assessment of blame is not the point,” she said. “Finding out what went wrong so we can prevent it in the future is important.”

Georgia found a variety of reasons that children languished in state custody for years. Sometimes, case workers left and their files weren’t handed off. Other times, cases were inadvertently left off court dockets.

“It’s very heartbreaking to think about,” Lewis said. “It is a problem nationally, and the reasons can be many. But it really doesn’t matter; you just have to get in there and help these kids.”

Brent Benjamin, chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, said the program won’t solve every child’s problems overnight, but “we will measure success one young life at a time.”

“We cannot let these children be forgotten,” he recently wrote in The West Virginia Lawyer, the state bar magazine. “This is a moral issue every bit as much as it is a legal issue.”

Lewis, who often works as a guardian for children in the court system, said she volunteered for New View partly because it’s a rare opportunity for two branches of government — executive and judicial — to collaborate.

“It combines the resources of both to look after the best interest of children,” she said, “and particularly these children who have been somewhat lost in the process.”

The courts often see these children only “when everything has gone wrong, and oftentimes, the DHHR and the court are practically adversaries,” she said. If New View is a success, it could have a positive effect on future collaborations.

“And my guess is the legislative branch may come into play when this is all over,” Lewis added.

Lewis and other “viewers” will be trained in conducting investigations, developing family trees and hunting down relatives. They’ll learn about options for permanent placement, such as legal guardianships, adoption and other formalized living arrangements. In some cases, viewers could recommend emancipation.

Tennis said the solutions will depend on each child’s circumstances and needs.

“At the very least,” she said, “we would like to link children with people who will stay in their lives and with resources that will help them become successful adults.”

The idea is simply to give them a place to call home — for good. Lewis said the simple need to belong struck her last Christmas as she and her daughter volunteered at an emergency shelter for 12- to 17-year-olds. They’d bought the children duffel bags, and each had a luggage tag.

The children didn’t know what to write.

“They don’t have an address ... something you and I would take for granted and fill out a thousand times on a form,” Lewis said. “They’re removed from their homes very suddenly, and all of their things end up in trash bag. And they tend to see themselves that way.

“If we can get permanency for a majority of these kids,” she said, “think what a difference we will have made in their lives.”

 

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

  • W.Va. grower promotes unmodified feed corn

    Lyle Tabb is hoping that his non-genetically modified corn will take off with farmers who can charge top dollar for “all natural” eggs.
    Genetically modified or GMO corn has greatly simplified the process of getting rid of weeds, but has also substantially increased the amount of a chemical call glyphosate.

    April 13, 2014

  • Geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
    A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

    April 12, 2014

  • Phares looks forward to retirement

    James Phares looked forward to the challenge and opportunity to help make a difference in a state education system under fire when he was hired in late 2012 as West Virginia’s schools superintendent.
    After 18 months, Phares will be stepping down on June 30 — which he said was set long ago as the day at age 61 that he’d walk with his wife into retirement.

    April 11, 2014

  • Teacher planning, abortion ban among W.Va. vetoes

    Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed about 200 bills and nixed eight this year, leaving teachers and abortion opponents unsatisfied.

    April 7, 2014

  • Spill company president ‘bears no fault’

    The president of Freedom Industries “bears no fault” for a West Virginia chemical spill that spurred a water-use ban for up to 10 days for 300,000 people, his lawyer says in a court filing.
    On Friday, Freedom President Gary Southern withdrew his application to get paid for work he already did during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. He also wanted Freedom and its insurance to cover his legal fees related to the Jan. 9 spill.

    April 5, 2014

  • Agencies to ask West Virginia residents about chemical spill

    Health agencies are making thousands of phone calls and going door-to-door to ask West Virginians how a January chemical spill affected them.
    The state Bureau for Public Health announced Thursday that volunteers will survey randomly selected households in nine counties about health concerns from the spill.

    April 5, 2014

  • Hearing scheduled on police shooting suit dispute

    The family of a Virginia man who was shot and killed by Martinsburg police officers after a scuffle is asking a judge to order the city to give them investigative and autopsy reports from the incident.
    The estate of 50-year-old Wayne Arnold Jones of Stephens City, Va., filed a $200 million federal lawsuit against the city after he was killed on March 13, 2013.

    April 4, 2014

  • Families remember mine disaster victims

    Four years after losing friends and relatives in a West Virginia mine disaster, 11 people preferred to watch a film together that they knew would reopen those wounds.
    The film, “Upper Big Branch - Never Again,” by former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship theorized that his old company wasn’t at fault for the deadly explosion, despite four investigations that concluded otherwise.

    April 3, 2014

  • State superintendent announces retirement

    West Virginia schools Superintendent James B. Phares announced his retirement Tuesday after only 15 months on the job, an unexpected move that disappointed some who hoped he’d stick around to lead a department whose policies had come under heavy scrutiny by a wide-ranging audit.

    April 2, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads