Bishop Michael Bransfield’s 2011 pastoral letter, “Hearts Made Whole,” urged more effective, caring responses on all levels of society for “those dealing with mental health and addiction issues.” Since that time many strides have been made regarding behavioral health, but one population of sufferers needs much more done. This past year the U.S. Dept. of Justice wrote Governor Tomblin concluding that the state “fails to provide services to children with significant mental health conditions in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.”
In 2012 a legislature-sponsored WVU study on the behavioral health needs of our state’s children had as a major recommendation “Develop and Implement a Unified Statewide Strategic Plan to Meet the Behavioral Health Needs of West Virginia Children and Families.” The researchers judged a hard look at the current system “would likely facilitate more efficient use of resources, reduce the number of out of state placements [of troubled children], and promote improved child and family outcomes.”
As our legislators strive to aid the development of policies beneficial to our young people, it is critical that changes to our system be well thought out, developed by cross-system public/private partnership and be driven by the assessed needs of children and youth. Certainly criminalizing child welfare and treatment is not the correct path for West Virginia. A collaborative strategic vision to transform our system will lead to greater efficiency, to support of well-established entities with proven experience in providing mission-driven quality treatment and to a culture of accountability to our most vulnerable children and youth.
Such a comprehensive plan would be of inestimable value. The Catholic Conference of West Virginia and Catholic Charities West Virginia urge our legislators to enable such a study.
We should echo of the care of Jesus for children and for those who are hurting.
Rev. Msgr. P. Edward Sadie
Director, Catholic Conference of WV
Director, Catholic Charities of WV