Good afternoon and thank you for joining us. Today, we are pleased to announce that the Department of Justice and the State of West Virginia have reached a comprehensive settlement agreement to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agreement commits West Virginia to expand services for children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders, 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 services.
I would like to thank Governor Jim Justice for his commitment to improve the lives of children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders. I would also like to thank Secretary Bill Crouch for the initiatives that he and his staff have already begun to increase the in-home and community-based mental health services available to West Virginia’s children. We appreciate the collaborative approach that you and your team displayed in working to resolve the issues we identified during our investigation.
Several years ago, after an extensive investigation of West Virginia’s children’s mental health system, the Department of Justice notified the State that we believed there was reasonable cause to believe that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to serve children with mental health disabilities qualified to receive State services in the most integrated setting appropriate for their needs. Throughout the State, we found that West Virginia lacked sufficient in-home and community based mental health services for children who desperately needed them. Many of these children cycled in and out of residential institutions, sometimes far away from their homes and families. At the end of our letter to the State, we expressed a desire to work in partnership on the children’s mental health system. And today’s settlement agreement is the first result of that collaboration.
The agreement commits the State to make available mental health services to children in their homes and communities in the intensity and for the duration of time that they need them. The agreement requires the State to expand mental health services across the State. These services include wraparound facilitation, behavioral support services, family support and training services, in-home therapy, children’s mobile crisis response, therapeutic foster care, and Assertive Community Treatment. These mental health services must be high quality and timely. The State must also individualize the services to meet each child’s needs.
The agreement also requires the State to eliminate the unnecessary placement of children in residential mental health treatment facilities. By the end of the Agreement, the State will ensure that the only children in residential mental health treatment facilities are those who have been determined by a professional to be in the most integrated setting necessary to meet their needs.
Finally, our agreement includes several provisions designed to ensure that West Virginia develops high-quality mental health services. The State will hire a subject matter expert to advise the State on how to implement the agreement. The State will better develop its data collection system so that it can recognize where gaps in services exist and address any barriers to its successful development of statewide mental health services. And the State will develop a plan detailing how it will complete the reforms in the agreement and will consider public comments regarding the plan.
On behalf of our team, I want to say thank you to the parents, children, advocates, and other community members who shared their stories and gave us suggestions on how to improve West Virginia’s mental health system. Going forward, we will need your ongoing support and engagement to make sure that the reforms in this agreement are successful. Thank you also to the providers of community-based children’s mental health services in West Virginia who shared their experiences and their vision for a better system. Last, thank you to the people involved in the state’s juvenile justice system, who described the ways in which that system has also failed many children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders. Your participation in implementing the coming reforms will be essential.
With the leadership in this State, including Governor Justice and Secretary Crouch, and the engagement of the community, I believe that West Virginia will be an example of how a State can ensure that its children receive the critical mental health services necessary to remain in their homes and communities. I am convinced that with the level of commitment and dedication shown by the State, it will achieve all of the reforms in the agreement, and more importantly, improve the lives of children with mental health disabilities and their families. We look forward to working with you to create that change.
At this time, I’d like to invite United States Attorney Mike Stuart to offer remarks. Mike Stuart and his office, as well as United States Attorney Bill Powell and his office, have worked together with the Civil Rights Division on the investigation and the negotiations that produced the settlement agreement.