Federal, state officials reach agreement over Disabilities Act

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - An agreement has been reached by the Department of Justice and the state of West Virginia after a federal investigation found the state has been violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after institutionalizing children with mental-health issues.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart and other federal officials announced the settlement during a news conference Tuesday morning.

The investigation found that West Virginia lacked sufficient in-home and community-based services for children who needed them.

The agreement commits the state to make mental-health services more available to children who need them, including things like in-home therapy and therapeutic foster care.

The goal is to keep children with families and in the community where they live and involves an agreement known as a memorandum of understanding. It would be a breach of contract for the state not to proceed. The agreement could be enforced in federal court if necessary, but officials said they do not think court action will be necessary.

Federal officials said the investigation started five years ago. They say West Virginia could do better in terms of providing services to children with emotional and behavioral disorders, providing them with integrative care.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there's an obligation to put children in the most integrated families, meaning within the community rather than being sent somewhere else.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Resources said they have been working on improving the mental-health system for children for the last few years, but the agreement legally binds them to keep moving in a positive direction.