Jackson Newspapers - Ripley, WV
  • FROM SEN. COOKMAN'S DESK: Children's issues a top priority in Charleston

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  • West Virginia's most precious resource is her children. I am proud to say that I have always tried to champion the interests of children. I worked hard to do what I believed to be in a child's best interest while applying the law in my work as Circuit Judge. Now that I have moved over to the Senate and the legislative branch of government I plan to continue that work in Charleston. It is my hope that my years working in the legal system as prosecutor and then judge has allowed me to see first-hand the things that truly work in our system for the betterment of children and their lives. That same experience has also shown me some things that need to be fixed. This past week I had a chance to begin addressing one of the problems.
    I was approached a few weeks ago about legislation written by Crittenton and supported by the West Virginia Child Care Association and its member agencies. It would require that West Virginia adopt a universal assessment tool for any child who enters the child welfare system in the state, from residential placement to foster care to juvenile justice.
    Currently, children and adolescents with serious emotional trauma are served by multiple systems in the state, including mental health, juvenile courts, public school and child protective services. For every system, there is a different jargon, a different mission, and often different services offered to the child. These systems have become disconnected and this ultimately may hurt the children they are serving. I see this proposed legislation as a partial solution to this problem.
    That is why I am proud to say that on February 22, 2013, I introduced Senate Bill 349, implementing the West Virginia Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths System ("WV CANS") for evaluating the out-of-home placement of children. This important bill is the first bill I have served as lead sponsor on, and I am proud to have Senators Snyder, Yost, Plymale, McCabe, Fitzsimmons and Wells join me as co-sponsors of the bill.
    This legislation would require a universal assessment tool, called the West Virginia Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths, to be used by every system serving our youth. Currently, there isn't a clear picture of the children who enter these systems. Who are they? What are their true needs? How can the child be best helped? With the universal WV CANS assessments, the assessments can be stored and evaluated to help build mental health treatment services that meet the specific needs of our children.
    This legislation will bring the systems together, strengthen West Virginia's services to our children, and ultimately give our kids a better chance at life.
    I am grateful to the West Virginia Child Care Association and Crittenton for forging ahead and bringing this issue to Charleston. It's long overdue.
    Page 2 of 2 - As a member of the newly-formed Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty in West Virginia, this legislation is a perfect tie-in. The majority of the children in the child welfare system are the poorest in our state. It is my hope that WV CANS Assessment will be one piece of the whole plan to help lift many of West Virginia's children up to a better quality of life.
    I have been named to membership of, the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty in West Virginia. This Senate Committee which will be chaired by Senator Unger of Berkley County has been established to investigate and promote solutions to deal with the staggering issue of children and poverty in the State of West Virginia. While West Virginia has reduced the number of seniors living in poverty in the past years, child poverty continues to be a growing problem, according to a report released by two organizations recently. It is hoped that this committee can take a holistic approach to dealing with this problem and develop a long-term plan to better the lives of children and improve the quality of life for all West Virginias.
    The bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee, then the Senate Finance Committee.
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