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Second foster care leader in West Virginia to exit in last two weeks

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Second foster care leader in West Virginia to exit in last two weeks

Jun 12, 2024 | 6:09 pm ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
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Second foster care leader to exit Department of Human Services in last two weeks
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Jeff Pack will transition to commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services, the governor announced Wednesday. (Office of the Gov. Jim Justice | Courtesy photo)

Jeff Pack, head of the state’s foster care system within the Department of Human Services, will transition into another government role, according to the governor. 

Pack is the second foster care leader to announce they’ll exit their role in the last two weeks as DoHS has faced intense scrutiny for its handling of and communication around the death of 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice announced during a virtual press briefing that Pack will step down as commissioner for the Bureau of Social Services once his replacement is found. 

He’ll serve next as commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services.

“Jeff does a great job, he continues to do good work,” the governor said. “This is a superstar in my book.”

Pack took on the role in 2021.

“I am deeply honored to have served as the first commissioner for the Bureau for Social Services,” he said in a statement. “I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to work alongside such passionate and committed professionals. Together, we have made a significant impact on the lives of West Virginia families, and I look forward to continuing to serve our community in my new role.”

Pack previously served in the House of Delegates, where he represented Raleigh County. While being a lawmaker, he raised concerns about issues in the foster system, including missing payments meant for adoption agencies in 2021. 

Justice touted Pack’s accomplishments, including addressing long-standing Child Protective Services staffing shortages amid the state’s foster care crisis.

DoHS and Justice are facing a sweeping class-action lawsuit that alleges the mistreatment of thousands of children in foster care as well as inadequate CPS staffing. 

Under Pack’s leadership, the administration raised CPS salaries and developed comprehensive trauma response and mental health support for field staff. 

More than 80% of CPS positions are currently filled. 

Pack also saw the implementation of the state’s online Child Welfare Dashboard in an effort to provide transparency and information about the foster care system.

“[Pack’s] leadership has brought about significant positive changes, and his collaborative spirit has strengthened our initiatives,” DoHS Secretary Cynthia Persily said in a statement. “While we will miss his expertise and vision in this role, we are thrilled that he will continue to serve the people of West Virginia in his new capacity in the governor’s office.”

The state’s first foster care ombudsman, Pamela Woodman-Kaehler, submitted a letter of resignation on May 29. Woodman-Kaehler was tasked with overseeing the state’s troubled foster care system and advocating for the rights of children and families. 

In response to a question from West Virginia Watch about the timing of the foster care leaders’ resignations, Justice said his administration is continuing to improve the system.

“With all in me, I think we’re not being fair completely … If you don’t watch out, you can catch too big a net and all the sudden before you know it, you leave the focus [off] what a grandmother and a mom did to a child,” he said.

Law enforcement found Kyneddi, who was being homeschooled, in “a skeletal state” on the floor of her Boone County home in April. Her mother and two grandparents have also been charged related to the girl’s death.

Justice admin continues to face allegations in Kyneddi’s case

The girl’s death sparked concerns about the state’s response to children in crisis. Media outlets were stonewalled in their efforts to gain information about whether CPS had known about the child prior to her death.

West Virginia State Police shared a document and audio saying that they made a referral to a local CPS office about the girl in March 2023, and a GPS tracker verified that his cruiser traveled there. CPS said there was no record of the referral.

After conflicting responses and non-answers, the Justice administration last week admitted that they mishandled communication about the high-profile case..

On Tuesday, WCHS reported that Boone County’s prosecuting attorney asked a judge to determine if Justice or DoHS were in contempt of court in the case for emailing documents that likely contained statements from Kyneddi’s mother, Julie Miller and others. DoHS had been barred from sharing parts of  Miller’s testimony that were taken last week without her attorney present. 

Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, said during Wednesday’s press conference that the Justice administration is not involved in the ongoing criminal case in Boone County.

“I’m advised that the material was provided to the prosecutor — that’s normal protocol. But, the prosecutor doing the right thing wanted to make sure that he didn’t get information he shouldn’t have,” he said.. “I think everything worked out.”

Justice continued to tout his administration’s transparency in the case.

“Let’s be really fair… I think what we’ve found is ways that we can make things better, but I don’t think we’ve found anything where Jim Justice’s office … has been trying to hide things from you,” he said. 

Correction: The headline of this story has been updated. Only one leader was in Department of Human Services.