CPS: 20 local children removed from homes so far this year

BUCKHANNON — So far in 2018, 20 children ages 17 and under have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, a local CPS worker told the Buckhannon Rotary Club Thursday.

Sarah Crum, CPS intake supervisor for Upshur, Lewis and Braxton counties, visited the club Tuesday to explain how the social services agency works and update members on some daunting statistics.

Although 20 children have been removed from their homes in Upshur County for either abuse or neglect, and just a few more – 23 – have been taken out of their homes in Lewis County, those statistics don’t reflect all the cases CPS has investigated.

“That doesn’t tell you anything about the families we’ve worked with,” Crum said. “The majority of families never make it to the court system. That’s only the children we’ve tried to give legal protection to.” 

“I think in the past year, we’ve terminated rights to about 30 children in Upshur County and placed them up for adoption,” Crum added, noting that family preservation is highly valued, except when safety is in question. “We do work very hard with families to try to place their children back with them, but ultimately, it’s the family’s responsibility … if they want to work on their plan, if they want to do the things that are going to protect their children and keep them safe in their home.”

Crum urged Rotary members to consider serving as a foster parent, saying the need is extremely high in both Upshur and Lewis counties. When children can’t be placed with relatives, CPS is sometimes forced to house them temporarily in shelters. 

“If you’ve ever considered opening your home to foster care, I would urge you to contact Mission West Virginia to apply for that,” Crum said. “It is a worthwhile thing to do, and there are children in this county that need your assistance.” (For more information about the fostering or adoption process, visit www.missionwv.org.)

When Crum began working in social services 30 years ago, many complaints she fielded were about the cleanliness — or lack thereof — of people’s houses.

That’s changed dramatically, she said.

“When I started years and years and years ago, we would get referrals like, ‘the house is dirty,’ ‘the kids are a little bit dirty’ — we don’t get those anymore,” Crum said. “They’re all serious.”

She estimated 80 percent of CPS cases have “some component” of drug abuse, which is almost always interwoven with domestic violence.

“What we have learned from child welfare services is that drug abuse and domestic violence go hand in hand,” Crum said. “We get at least one drug-affected infant a week out of Upshur County, sometimes more. I think in the last four weeks, I’ve had about seven or eight drug-affected infants.”

Typically, when babies are born dependent on opioids, they are taken off the drug via a morphine taper and usually have to be transported out of the county to a larger hospital.

“Very small infants are being given morphine to help them withdraw off the other drugs, so you can imagine all the damage that’s probably doing by the time they turn a year old,” Crum said.

CPS’s job isn’t to ensure people transform into ideal parents, she emphasized.

“Our priority is safety, and so our goal is to get them to minimum standards so their kids can grow up healthy,” Crum said.

Crum also briefed the club on the historical development of child welfare agencies, saying abuse and neglect of children moved from being largely a private matter to a public concern in the late 19th century.

“Did you know they had laws to protect animals before they did children?” she asked.

By the 1920, more than 250 social service societies for the prevention of cruelty to children had developed, including in Charleston and Wheeling.

“Gradually public social services agencies began to take more of this responsibility, and during the ‘60s and ‘70s, major developments in child protection began to take place,” Crum explained. Some of those historical landmarks included mandated reporting laws, requiring people who interact regularly with children — including teachers, pastors, volunteers and coaches — to report any suspected child abuse or neglect to the W.Va. Department of Health and Human Services.

Suspected cases of child abuse and/or neglect should be submitted to a centralized intake office, which works to determine whether the report meets the legal criteria for child abuse or neglect.

“If what’s occurring meets the definition of child abuse or neglect, they accept it and send it to that county office, whether it be Tucker or Pendleton, Lewis, Upshur or Braxton,” Crum said. “If it doesn’t meet that, they screen it out, which means no further action is taken.”

CPS does value family preservation, Crum explained. 

“We work very hard to try to re-unify families because it’s the state’s philosophy and Child Protective Service’s philosophy overall that children are better with their birth families,” she said. “Unfortunately, we cannot always achieve that and we do have to ask the courts for their protection.”

Suspected child abuse or neglect should be reported to the centralized intake office by calling 1-800-352-6513.

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