Curbing Child Abuse in W.Va.

Child abuse is a serious problem in West Virginia, especially so in some Northern Panhandle counties. While it can never be stamped out, government agencies dedicated to fighting it must take the task seriously.

Whether the state Department of Health and Human Resources does that is a question, to judge by a report to state legislators.

Lawmakers this week received an audit report on the DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families. According to an Associated Press report, the study concluded the bureau is “unwilling to fix shortcomings” and “lacks a sense of urgency in recruiting, building and retaining a workforce capable of timely investigations.”

Those are serious, troubling allegations. They probably give special pain to the many DHHR caseworkers who dedicate themselves, sometimes risking their own safety, to ensure children are not mistreated.

Child abuse is a serious concern in our state. During 2011, the last year for which figures were available, 16.4 of every 1,000 Mountain State children under age 18 were victims of abuse, according to the Kids Count Data Center.

Here in the Northern Panhandle, rates per 1,000 vary wildly. Local counties’ rates for 2011 were:

Brooke – 13.8.

Hancock – 21.

Marshall – 11.4.

Ohio – 20.6.

Tyler – 29.4.

Wetzel – 28.6.

Clearly, for one reason or another, children in some counties are at greater risk of being abused.

Interim Bureau of Children and Families Commissioner Susan Hage said she takes the audit report seriously. She added she is committed to improvement.

Let’s hope so. Unfortunately, West Virginians hear similar pledges from government officials on a regular basis. Then, in a few years, we learn nothing has changed.

But this issue involves our precious children. Legislators should allow no more than six months before checking back with the agency and insisting on real progress, not just promises.