Four children in West Virginia custody sent to live in out-of-state facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.
Allison Adler, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said none of the children were hospitalized. She would not say where the children are being housed.
“The Department cannot release the names of the facilities or state where the children are located,” Adler wrote in an email. “Many times, only one West Virginia child is placed at a certain out-of-state facility. If a member of the public knows that the child is placed at that facility, then they would know that the child has tested positive.”
It’s unclear why the children were out of state. DHHR officials have not said when they learned of the positive tests.
Neither Gov. Jim Justice nor DHHR officials had disclosed the positive tests before Friday, when asked about them by the Gazette-Mail. Cindy Largent-Hill, who directs the judicial branch’s Division of Children and Juvenile Services, revealed the positive cases Thursday when the Gazette-Mail asked if there were any in the DHHR system.
Largent-Hill described the children as having suffered either abuse or neglect or having committed offenses — those cases often overlap — and were at out-of-state residential facilities used by the DHHR.
“Most of the children in our juvenile justice system in West Virginia are victims of some form of abuse or neglect, have been in extremely chaotic family situations, have been exposed to a variety of substances and [we] have found — due to lack of supervision, due to the chaos, some of them are drug-affected and have some cognitive problems — they end up breaking the law,” she said.
Adler described them as foster children. When asked about the disconnect, she wrote in an email that “all children in the custody of [the] DHHR are foster children regardless of whether they came into care through a delinquency petition, a status offender or abuse or neglect case.”
As of April, the DHHR reports, it had 463 clients in out-of-state facilities. The department said Friday the four positive cases are not included among the statewide coronavirus numbers it releases.
When asked about the four positive cases during Justice’s daily COVID-19 briefing, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said, “Those children are safe, those children have been quarantined.”
Largent-Hill said Linda Watts, commissioner of the DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families, which oversees these children, called her Wednesday night about a COVID-19 positive result the DHHR learned about that night. Largent-Hill said they had a long conversation that lasted to about 10 p.m.
“They have been extremely transparent with the court through this whole COVID process,” Largent-Hill said.
She said she notified the child’s probation officer and the judge who presided over the case and that the child is now back in West Virginia.