Helping Troubled Youths in W.Va.

Knowing more about troubled children helps teachers, social workers, parents and, unfortunately, even judges better understand how to help them.

When an opportunity to gain such information presents itself, it ought to be seized eagerly. West Virginia legislators now find themselves in a position to do so.

It comes courtesy of Crittenton Services, here in Wheeling, and the state Child Care Association.

During meetings of the association last year, the challenge of evaluating troubled children to learn how best to help them was discussed. The idea of setting up a statewide database of information from a single evaluation tool used with all youngsters in need of assistance was mentioned.

An information gathering system, the West Virginia Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths Assessment, already has been developed. It is not the general sort of tool that might be used throughout the country, but one tailored to deal with youngsters from our state.

Crittenton Chief Executive Officer Kathy Szafran has written a bill for the Legislature, requiring all state agencies to use the assessment system. That could provide a mountain of data, possibly stored at West Virginia University, that could be used to help troubled children. The idea seems to be gaining support among legislators.

Helping youngsters who are in trouble for any number of reasons, ranging from abuse at home to bad decisions involving drugs, is a complex process involving many entities. Again, parents sometimes seek help. Teachers try to find the keys to unlock academic ability in students they can’t reach. Social workers want to know how to handle boys and girls whose families have proven toxic. And, again, judges want to know how to get juvenile defendants back on the right track.

All this can create “turf wars” and, sometimes, resistance to change.

Fortunately, the state Department of Health and Human Resources seems open to the idea of a universal assessment. That’s a start.

It is virtually impossible to over-emphasize how much good such a program could do. Legislators should give Szafran’s bill careful consideration.