The Voice of West Virginia
West Virginia has a legal responsibility to take care of children who are being abused and neglected. State Code 49-1-105 specifically says it is the obligation of the state child welfare system to “assure each child care, safety and guidance; serve the mental and physical welfare of a child; preserve and strengthen the child family ties; (and) recognize the fundamental rights of children and parents.”
That’s a heavy task, and one that is growing increasingly challenging in West Virginia, as Brad McElhinny reports.
The number of referrals of child abuse and neglect cases in West Virginia has risen from just under 21,000 in fiscal year 2015 to nearly 27,000 in FY 2018. That’s an increase of 28 percent. The opioid crisis has likely contributed to the rise. The number of child neglect cases reported involving substance abuse has risen by 79 percent during the same period.
Child Protective Services (CPS) workers are stretched to the limit. A legislative audit released this week found “The increase in referrals has increased the amount of work each CPS worker is responsible for and has only complicated issues with an already overtaxed workforce.”
The workload, low salary (the starting pay is $31,164) and job stress make it difficult to find and retain caseworkers. Only 82 percent of CPS positions were filled at the end of last fiscal year. The turnover rate is 27 percent.
That’s too high, but it is down considerably from the 2018 rate of 41 percent. That’s because the Department of Health and Human Resources has increased salaries ten percent beyond the state-mandated 10 percent increase over the last two years and added an incentive pay program. DHHR has also added 60 CPS positions to reduce the workload.
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch says the increased pay, additional case workers and stepped up recruiting efforts are making a difference. “These are only a part of the ongoing efforts to try to improve West Virginia’s child welfare system.”
Still, the audit shows CPS is struggling mightily to get to at-risk children in a timely fashion. The audit found that in 2018, case workers met the requirement of a face-to-face interview with the child or children within 14 days just 50 percent of the time.*
The staffing shortage is an issue here, but also sometimes it is difficult to track down a family “due to missing or incorrect information or the family not being home when the CPS worker arrives.”
These are deeply troubling statistics, but not surprising. The opioid crisis is straining social services at all levels and CPS workers are among those on the front lines. Crouch calls them “unsung heroes and… the backbone of our child welfare system.”
“Child Protective Service workers have one of the most important jobs in our state and they do all they can to make sure that every child is safe and protected,” he said.
DHHR under Secretary Crouch has been proactive in efforts to attract and retain CPS workers. He’s making progress, but more needs to be done. As the audit shows, too many children are waiting too long for someone to come to their rescue.
*(Case workers are required to meet with children and develop a protection plan within 72 hours if there is an allegation of imminent danger or of serious physical abuse.)
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program announced Wednesday that West Virginia’s seat belt usage rate is above 90% for the second year in a row.
The rate was 90.2% in 2019 compared to the national average of 90%.
The rate in West Virginia for 2018 was 90.53%
The organization notes seat belt utilization has increased over the last six years, affirming the organization and its traffic safety partners are “providing effective occupant protection programs to citizens.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are forming a “tech caucus” aimed at raising awareness about various aspects of job creation.
Delegates Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, and Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, announced the formation of the caucus on Wednesday. The body will be open to all lawmakers and members of the public.
“The startup economy is quickly changing the landscape for job creation around the world, and we want to make sure West Virginia doesn’t miss this critical opportunity,” Capito said in a statement. “We want to send a clear message that the West Virginia Legislature is ready to partner with technology developers, entrepreneurs and innovators to diversify our economy, create jobs and launch businesses in our state.”
Fluharty said as young generations become more mobile, the state has to react the trend.
“West Virginia offers a great place to raise a family, (and) it’s about time we join the 21st century and make sure West Virginia also becomes a great place for innovation and technological opportunities so that we can truly compete in today’s economy,” he said.
The caucus will also host speakers focused on technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and the body will work to promote business startups and job creation.
Capito and Fluharty will serve as co-chairs of the caucus. Regular meetings will be announced once the legislative session begins Jan. 8.
TUCKER COUNTY, W.Va. — An Indiana ski resort has purchased Timberline Four Seasons, with plans to reopen the property for the 2020-2021 ski season.
Perfect North Slopes, in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, made the second-highest bid in an auction held Tuesday in Philadelphia. First Asset Holding placed the winning bid of $2.2 million but agreed to transfer the bid to Perfect North Slopes for $30,000.
Timberline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April.
Joe Stevens, director of the West Virginia Ski Areas Association, called Wednesday’s announcement “great news for the ski industry in West Virginia.”
“What it probably means that some of the best skiing and snowboarding terrain in West Virginia will stay available for skiers and snowboarders. Probably not for this season, but moving ahead, some of the best terrain will stay available for skiers and snowboarders,” he said.
Skiing at Snowshoe Mountain Resort opens this coming Friday. Opening day at Canaan Valley Resort. is scheduled for Dec. 14.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Members of the Monongalia County Commission are traveling to Charleston pm Friday to meet with West Virginia Department of Highways officials.
Commissioners requested the meeting in light of multiple inquiries about current road conditions and efforts to make repairs. For about three months, the commission was referred to the new interactive work status map before the invitation was sent.
Commissioner Ed Hawkins said an open line of communication is vital to keep constituents accurately informed.
“What we need to be able to tell the public is what’s going on,” Hawkins said. “We’re the people that are called, when we’re called we’d like to give a proper answer.”
Darby Clayton, the supervisor for the Division of Highway’s District 4, came to a scheduled public meeting of the commission prior to the invitation to explain work progress and limitations of weather and resources. Clayton also offered explanations to commissioners about how work progress is displayed on the interactive map.
“I will give them credit, we have seen a flurry of activity in the past month to two months.,” Hawkins said.
The Division of Highways responded to the request in late October and invited all three commissioners to a meeting with secretary Byrd White.
Hawkins said they want to leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what to expect in the future as well as create a line of communication.
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POCA, W.Va. — Just days before they meet in a Class AA quarterfinal, Poca and Oak Glen are enjoying two of the better football seasons in school history.
Of the 12 quarterfinal matchups across the Mountain State this week, the Dots’ showdown with the Golden Bears is the only contest between unbeaten teams. It’s also one of just two games pitting teams with at least 10 wins against each other — with the other being Keyser at Bluefield.
No. 3 Poca and No. 6 Oak Glen bother enter unblemished and with matching 11-0 records, and a spot in a Class AA semifinal awaits the winner of Saturday’s matchup at O.O. White Stadium.
“We’ll really have to work our butts off, put together a great game plan and hopefully it’ll be a great game down there,” Oak Glen head coach Ted Arneault said.
Both teams won first-round playoff games last Saturday to advance to this point. The Dots topped No. 14 North Marion, 42-27, while the Golden Bears took care of No. 11 Wyoming East, 55-13.
Oak Glen’s performance against the Warriors, which included four passing touchdowns from quarterback Nick Chaney and a pair of defensive scores, has the full attention of Dots’ head coach Seth Ramsey.
“They create a ton of turnovers and score off those turnovers,” Ramsey said. “Ball security is a big thing and we have to make sure we make our possessions count. When we get a big play or chunk play, we have to score from within the red zone. They don’t give up a lot of big plays either.
“They fly to the football. I don’t know if we’ve seen a team that gets to the football as well as they do.”
Oak Glen will have to get plenty of defenders to the ball to slow Dots’ tailback Ethan Payne, a Kennedy Award candidate who has scored a state-leading 51 touchdowns this season.
Payne rushed for 294 yards and five TDs against the Huskies, while also coming up with an interception.
Payne’s younger brother, Toby Payne, also recorded an interception in the win over North Marion and plays a pivotal role as a wideout. Quarterback Jay Cook threw for 140 yards and rushed for a score, meaning Oak Glen’s defense will have a lot to prepare for.
The Golden Bears are also plenty balanced, relying heavily on Chaney behind center. He spreads the wealth and often looks the way of Hunter Patterson or Gage Patterson.
Hunter Patterson and 235-pound bruising back Paxton Shuman key the rushing attack.
“It makes it really tough to prepare for,” Ramsey said. “Most teams in high school football are good at inside runs, outside runs or passing. These guys are good at everything.
“(Hunter Patterson) can make you miss in a phone booth. He’s very shifty. They run many multiple sets with motions and shifts. You have to make sure your eyes are in the right spot and you’re staying disciplined.”
While the Golden Bears’ plethora of skill players have been critical to the team’s stellar play, Arneault says those paving the way for the success shouldn’t go unnoticed.
“We feel like with our offense, it’s pick your poison,” Arneault said. “You want to take the outside perimeter away and stack the Pattersons, we have a big boy in the middle (Shuman) that can wear you down. Our offensive line is outsized every week, but they tend to outperform every week. Those offensive linemen are awesome.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Josh Norwood’s West Virginia career was bound to end on some act of reckless abandon.
Given his ejection from two games this season for committing targeting, a repeat violation was the most likely suspect for the senior safety. As it turned out, the only player at risk on his final play was Norwood himself.
On the most extraordinary piece of playmaking by a West Virginia defender this season, Norwood seemingly came out of nowhere, flying through the air to pick off a Skylar Thompson pass in the second quarter of West Virginia’s 24-20 win at Kansas State.
From where he flew, there was little hope of sticking the landing. Norwood’s collarbone broke upon its full-speed impact with the ground. Lauded earlier in the season by coach Neal Brown for his “contact courage,” Norwood went out the very way he always played the game — fearlessly.
— ESPN Player (@espnplayer) November 18, 2019
“When you’re watching film and you see a guy sell out his body, sell out everything he’s done to risk everything to play a ball – that’s something that’s an intangible you can’t teach,” said Mountaineers defensive lineman Reese Donahue.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said the play was an extraordinary combination of play recognition and execution.
“That was the corner’s play,” Koenning said. “When the quarterback threw the ball, he was reading the corner.”
Kansas State Skylar Thompson isn’t the most dynamic quarterback in the league, but he may be the best at reading plays. Thompson had only thrown two interceptions all year and rarely makes the wrong read. As it turned out, he didn’t in this case, either.
WVU corner Hakeem Bailey took the wrong receiver, leaving K-State’s Landry Weber open downfield. Norwood saw what was happening and jumped the play before it turned into a potential disaster.
“Josh made a fantastic play,” Koenning said. “If you want to say he sacrificed his body, it would not be inaccurate to say that.”
Cornerback Keith Washington couldn’t believe his eyes when Norwood came down with the ball.
“Last year I made fun of him because he dropped eight interceptions,” Washington said. “It’s just crazy how he ended his career with an acrobat interception like that.”
The interception was the first, and likely last, of Norwood’s career. He was West Virginia’s third cornerback last season, but moved to safety when Derrek Pitts and Kenny Robinson left the program over the summer. The position is a far better fit, it would seem, given that Norwood is second on the team with 64 tackles despite missing the greater part of five halves of action due to penalties and the injury.
Whenever he is asked about Norwood, Koenning usually speaks in equal parts exasperation and admiration. Earlier in this season Koenning mentioned that Norwood is poised to be a great coach someday, but couched it by noting that Norwood’s biggest headaches will come from players like Norwood himself.
Koenning originally recruited Norwood out of high school in Valdosta, Ga., which is part of Troy’s natural territory. He figured Norwood was a Sun Belt-level player.
“He was a guy we would like at Troy. I wasn’t 100 percent sold on him because he was undersized and a little underspeed,” Koenning said. “I was shocked that Ohio State took him, to be candid.”
Norwood spent two seasons with the Buckeyes before transferring to Northwest Mississippi Community College, then signed with West Virginia in 2018.
This year, he and Koenning’s paths finally crossed again. Even if he is frequently frustrated by Norwood’s mistakes, it is clear Koenning has developed an affection that may be the strongest he has for any player.
“Josh has what they call ‘dawg’ in him. He is aggressive. He plays like we need all our guys to play like — except for the other parts,” Koenning said. “He’s also a wild card, not always in the right spot. His eyes aren’t always in the right spot. You get what you’ve got.
“He’s had a tumultuous college career and I’ll help him any way I can, because he really wants to be good at something. Being good and being the best matters to him, no matter what he wants to be in.”
There is a chance, however remote, that Norwood isn’t done just yet. Brown said that Norwood’s surgery went well, and a mid-December release is possible. If West Virginia wins its final two games, that would put Norwood on schedule to potentially play in a bowl.
“He’s in a good head space. We make it to a bowl game, he might be able to play,” Donahue said. “Regardless, he’s got a great future ahead of him.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A day after announcing he will not run for re-election in 2020, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, explained his decision during an appearance on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Miley, who will leave at the end of his current term, said the main reason is what he calls declining room to discuss and pass thoughtful legislation.
“I no longer believe that spending time in Charleston trying to pursue good policy agenda matters is the highest and best use of my time because I don’t believe there is that much of an effort to find the good policy the state needs,” he said.
“I have gotten a feeling that has developed over the past several years that there is more interest in passing or fighting against policies based on what interest groups outside of West Virginia and outside the Legislature want you to fight for or fight against.”
Miley was first elected in 2004 and has served numerous positions, including as Speaker of the House from June 2013 to January 2015.
Miley said special interests and political action committees have gained control over legislators by using donations and endorsements as tools.
“No longer getting half a loaf from a policy decision good enough,” he said. “Whoever supported your campaign, they want the whole loaf, whether it’s the right side or the left side. As a result, we’re creating extreme policies which I don’t think are very good. They’re good for those outside interests. They’re not very good for West Virginia.”
Miley announced his plans Tuesday, the same day House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, announced he will not run for another term. Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and Senate Minority Whip Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, have also announced they are not running for re-election.
But Miley is not ruling out running for office later.
“I need to step back and see how I feel when I get out of it,” he noted.
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— By Wes McKinney
GAMES TO WATCH
No. 11 Capital (6-5) at No. 3 Spring Valley (10-1)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last Week: Spring Valley had to overcome a slow start against Hurricane, but rallied to score all 34 points in the second half on its way to a 34-6 first round win over the Redskins.
“We just kept turning the ball over and having penalties in the first half,” Spring Valley head coach Brad Dingess explained. “You get in the playoffs and you do that, you’re going to dig yourself a hole. I was proud of our kids they came back and responded real well, didn’t panic and took care of business in the second half.
“I thought we were able to move the ball pretty successfully in the first half, but we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” he continued.
Capital surprised Wheeling Park on the Island and picked up a 45-21 win over the Patriots to move on in the postseason.
Why It’s Important: This will be the fourth straight season Spring Valley and Capital meet in the Class AAA Playoffs with the Timberwolves winning all three on their way to the Class AAA Championship Game, and all three prior meetings have also been at Spring Valley.
“Our place has become a tough place to play, especially late in the year,” Dingess said. “We’ve been able to take advantage of it in the playoffs.”
Who to Watch for Capital: Dingess not only pointed out that the Cougars have improved tremendously on the offensive line since a 41-0 shutout win for Spring Valley over Capital on October 4, but the insertion of Chance Knox into the backfield for Capital has made a big difference.
“When we played them earlier in the year, they were kind of green on the offensive line,” Dingess said. “They’ve done a good job of getting better on both sides of the line. They are running the ball more effectively now than they did at the beginning of the year. If you can run the ball in the playoffs, you’re going to be hard to beat.”
And Knox has been a big reason why the rushing game has seen an uptick in production.
“Anytime you get in the playoffs, the first thing you want to do to try to stop the other team from running the ball,” Dingess said. “They are putting Knox in the backfield. They’ve been able to put up some points because of that.”
Who to Watch for Spring Valley: Nate Ellis showed off his arm and legs to kick start the Spring Valley comeback in the third quarter against Hurricane as he accounted for two third-quarter touchdowns after Hurricane shutout the Timberwolves in the first half.
No. 7 George Washington (8-3) at No. 2 Cabell Midland (11-0)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last Week: George Washington held off Huntington, 24-14, to advance into the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Cabell Midland started fast and eased by Riverside, 42-6.
“I think you need a game like that to start in the playoffs, so it’s not so emotional every week,” Cabell Midland head coach Luke Salmons said. “Our kids weren’t real emotional and it wasn’t one of those where you have to spend everything on. Our attention turned to GW real quick after the game was over.”
Why It’s Important: Despite being in the same league, George Washington and Cabell Midland avoided each other on the regular-season schedule this season. The Knights will be looking for their first trip to the Class AAA Semifinals since 2015—also their last undefeated regular season and 11-0 start.
Who to Watch for George Washington: The Patriots’ offensive attacks starts with quarterback R.T. Alexander.
“They have a real good quarterback,” Salmons said.
“He can run it some, but he throws the ball extremely well. They have good receivers and they can make plays. They are what you expect a playoff team this deep in the postseason to be. They draw up plays to put their best players in position to make plays.”
Who to Watch Cabell Midland: J.J. Roberts got the scoring started for Cabell Midland with a rushing touchdown in the first quarter while also throwing for a touchdown in the third quarter.
No. 10 Mingo Central (9-2) at No. 2 Bridgeport (10-1)
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Last Week: It was Daylin Goad’s legs, not his arm, that pushed Mingo Central into the second round of the playoffs as he scored both touchdowns on the ground as the Miners got past Shady Spring, 13-7, as they were the only road team to advance in Class AA.
Bridgeport gained nearly 500 yards of offense as it rolled past Lewis County, 56-15, to advance to the quarterfinal round for a 13th consecutive year.
Why It’s Important: Mingo Central Shady Spring’s best defensive punch last week, and the Miners will go see another gritty defense this week that features a powerful running game. In two of the last three years, a north central West Virginia team has knocked Mingo Central out of the playoffs with Fairmont Senior eliminating the Miners in the Class AA Semifinals in 2017.
Who to Watch for Mingo Central: Goad will be asked to put his dual-threat ability on the line again this week with the Indians possessing a defense that only allowed 20 points once this season — Oct. 4 against North Marion.
Meanwhile, the Miners will be looking to get the Hatfield brothers involved in the passing game once again.
Who to Watch for Bridgeport: The physical Bridgeport ground attack is spearheaded by running back Carson Winkie and quarterback Devin Vandergrift, who also plays on the back end of the Indians’ defense.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Ripley cross country and track standout Tori Starcher has signed with Stanford University. She put pen to paper on her scholarship offer Wednesday in a ceremony at Ripley High School.
“When I visited Stanford, the first time stepping on campus it was something I had never seen,” Starcher said. “There were palm trees and it was really sunny. It was a beautiful campus. The team was so welcoming and it was almost like they already knew me. I fit in really well and I think that was a big part of it.”
“You aren’t able to run forever so I ultimately I want to get a really nice degree. Obviously Stanford is a great place to do it. They are top five in the country for academics.”
Starcher has won all twelve events she has competed in at the state high school track championships (9 individual, 3 relays) and has guided the Vikings to consecutive state team championships.
She set a new meet record in the mile run at the Penn Relays in April (4:38.19). Starcher attracted interest from a number of top-level Division 1 programs, including Oregon. On October 9th, Starcher verbally committed to compete at Notre Dame.
Starcher continues to rehab a lower leg injury that forced her to miss most of the state cross country season this fall. “I had to take several weeks off just because it was a pretty bad fracture but yesterday I had my third X-ray and it is pretty clear and it looks like I am ready to go.”
(Joe Stevens contributed to this report)