Helping Troubled Children in W.Va.

It would be upsetting enough to hear the head of any West Virginia state agency tell legislators her department “lack(s) goals. We lack outcomes and we lack measurements to track … programs.” But when the agency is the Bureau of Children and Families, lawmakers should demand speedy improvement.

BCF Commissioner Nancy Exline, who is new to the job, had that very report for a group of legislators this week. It came after a legislative audit reported the agency is not complying with a state law requiring it to track all cases it handles and assess the effectiveness of its programs.

Exline told lawmakers she could “not tell you why, around 1997, the Bureau of Children and Families did not put together a process to follow the code. I can tell you I will.”

The BCF worked with 6,347 children last year, according to the legislative audit. Many, at a cost of more than $67 million last year, have to be sent to foster homes.

It will not be easy for Exline to keep her promise. Bureaucracies, no matter how inefficient, are resistant to change. But the futures of too many children depend on the BCF doing a good job. For that reason, lawmakers should have a follow-up audit conducted in no more than a year.