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Senate approves bill to preserve abuse, neglect records

February 4, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s child protection agency would be required to keep records of child abuse and neglect allegations for at least seven years under a bill advancing in the Legislature, but questions remain about how to store those records electronically.

The Division of Children, Youth and Families keeps records of allegations deemed unworthy of investigating for one year. Such “screened-out” records would be kept for seven years under the bill passed by the Senate last week, while reports that were investigated but deemed unfounded would be kept for 10 years instead of the current three. Reports with supporting evidence of abuse or neglect would be kept indefinitely, instead of for seven years.

The measure, which still needs to be approved in the House, would create a pilot program to store reports electronically, starting with a limited number of district offices.

The amended version backed by Republicans removed $180,000 originally proposed to fund the program. They said they support the pilot program but believe the Department of Health and Human Services has the money elsewhere in its budget.

“I think the department can do this, should do this, and we ought to have the existing resources with the department to do it,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

But Jake Leon, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that isn’t the case.

“Creating and retaining electronic records for child abuse and neglect reports would strengthen the department’s ability to identify and track the potential for further harm in the children and youth served by DYCF,” he said Friday. “However, if the bill moves forward without funding for the new positions, the department will not be able to implement the program effectively nor have the capacity to reassign open positions from other programs without eliminating direct care positions and other critical positions that provide direct support to field staff.”

Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said part of the reason he voted against the state budget last year was because it didn’t provide enough money for child protection.

“DCYF can use the information in these reports to establish patterns of behavior, but only if they have the information long enough,” he said. “I think we ought to put our money where our mouth is in child protection. If we’re going to track these cases let’s fund the system to track the cases.”

The division has been under scrutiny since two toddlers under its supervision were killed in 2014 and 2015. The deaths 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 lack of services available to families, and seriously overloaded DCYF workforce.

“If we’re going to put this on existing staff, there’s already a backlog. And we’re going to ask existing staff to upload boxes of documents into a computer system?” Feltes said. “Let’s start fulfilling our obligations here.”

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