CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New Bureau of Children and Families Commissioner Nancy Exline assured legislators Wednesday that her agency would comply with reporting requirements to determine the effectiveness of Youth Services programs.
"We lack goals. We lack outcomes, and we lack measurements to track Youth Services programs," Exline told a joint meeting of interim committees on Government Operations and Government Organization.
A legislative audit released Wednesday found that the bureau has failed to comply with a state law requiring it to track all Youth Services cases, and assess the effectiveness of various programs and interventions.
Youth Services encompass a wide variety of bureau and community-based assistance programs for children who have behavioral issues, or have been deemed juvenile delinquents or status offenders.
"The success or failure of Youth Services interventions weighs far beyond the cost [of] the program," the audit states. "It is a program designed to target children who are high-risk for a future life of crime; improve their circumstances and behavior; and bring about positive change in their life ... Without enough information to make data-driven decisions, agencies are unable to make sound decisions to alter programs in order to meet objectives."
The audit calls on the bureau to begin tracking outcome data for all children in the Youth Services program, and to update the Legislature within six months on progress made to comply with the law.
"The recommendations are very clear what we need to do, and we've already started it," said Exline, whose first day as commissioner was Oct. 16. "I cannot 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."
According to the legislative audit, the bureau has no data to track the effectiveness of Youth Services interventions for 5,148 of the 6,347 children enrolled in the program in 2012. It only tracks data for Youth Services cases where the children were also placed in foster care.
Exline assured legislators the data tracking the effectiveness of various Youth Services programs would be available in 2014.
"We will be transparent, and I will give you an update of where we are," Exline said.
"We're looking at results-based accountability," she said, adding, "Over the next few months, I believe, we're going to have remarkable change in the way we do things."
In 2012, the bureau spent $7.8 million to pay salary and benefits for 159 Youth Services workers, the audit found. That year, the bureau also spent a total of $67.46 million for foster care placements.
That includes $20.22 million for foster care placements in out-of-state facilities, and Exline said Wednesday her office would be reviewing every out-of-state placement.Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.