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Review finds New Hampshire child protection lacking

August 17, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s child protection division is meeting just two out of 14 national standards regarding the outcomes it achieves and the systems it has in place, according to a federal agency’s report issued Friday.

The U.S. Administration for Children and Families reviewed 65 New Hampshire child welfare cases from the last year and interviewed child welfare workers, attorneys for parents and child and others. It found the state Division of Children, Youth and Families wasn’t in substantial conformity with any of its seven outcome standards, including protecting children from abuse and neglect; keeping them in their homes whenever possible; and ensuring they get adequate medical and mental health services.

The report found the state was meeting two of seven standards: having strong community engagement and a highly functioning quality assurance system. It noted that several other external reviews of DCYF have found that the agency has struggled with growing caseloads, overdue assessments, high-profile cases involving child fatalities and significant staff turnover.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the report provides further clarity on problems the state has already begun addressing. The Legislature passed several bills this year to increase staffing and restore voluntary services for parents aimed at preventing abuse and neglect.

“But there is more work to be done,” Meyers said. “DCYF will be submitting a Program Improvement Plan this fall to address caseloads and improve outcomes for children and families involved with the child welfare system.”

The agency has been under scrutiny since the deaths of two toddlers under its supervision in 2014 and 2015. Those cases spurred an independent review of the agency, which concluded that it often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed. In a report released in late 2016, auditors also described a restrictive child protection law that sets a high bar for determining neglect, a seriously overloaded DCYF workforce and a lack of services available to families.

Moira O’Neill, director of the state Office of the Child Advocate, said the findings are not surprising given that her office was created due to the poor performance of the agency. But they are daunting, she said.

“They confirm what our office is seeing, particularly with timeliness of risk and safety assessments,” she said. “Caseworker caseloads are disabling the system, impeding timely safety assessments and family work. A lack of effective services and an inadequate number of caseworkers and staff further obstruct progress towards ensuring children are safe or recovering from maltreatment.”

She added, “The Legislature has a great deal of work to do this session if we are going to see better reports and safe children.”

A public forum on the report is expected next month.

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