CONCORD, NH – A report commissioned by the state to review the performance of the state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families has concluded that the agency is overworked, understaffed and inadequately trained, elevating the risk to children most in need of protection from harm.
The 103-page report also provides 20 recommendations going forward, to improve outcomes for children who come into contact with the system, most often through family issues that come to light through the courts or law enforcement.
The decision for an independent review arose following the deaths of two children, both of whom had been under DCYF supervision before their deaths:
- Sadence Willott, 21-months old, of Manchester died in Sept. of 2015. Her death was ruled a homicide and her mother, Katlin Paquette, 22, has been charged.
- Brielle Gage, 3, died in 2014 of multiple injuries sustained in a beating. Her mother, Kaitlyn Marin, was convicted in Aug. 2016 of second-degree murder. Through court proceedings it was learned that Marin used heroin on the night her daughter died.
The report, completed by the Center for the Support of Families, cites growing concerns about the increasing use of opioids in New Hampshire and its effect on child safety, and focuses on two main areas:
(1.) How well the State’s laws, policies, and practices work to protect children who come the attention of the public child welfare agency, both from immediate threats of danger and the risk of future harm;
(2.) The capacity of the child welfare system to protect those children.
The full report is embedded below, or click you can click here.
Gov. Maggie Hassan released the following statement on the report findings:
“It is the fundamental responsibility of our society to protect our children and ensure that every child has the opportunity to live and grow in a safe environment. Any missed opportunity to save a child’s life, or to save a child from harm, is a tragedy, which is why we undertook this independent review to help ensure that New Hampshire has the staff, policies and laws in place necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of our children.
“While the Center for the Support of Families’ report found some strong areas of practice at the Division of Children Youth and Families, such as initial screening decisions, it also clearly outlined a number of steps that New Hampshire must take in order to better protect our children, including increasing staff, improving training and improving our laws and policies. The review makes clear that while the goal of reunifying families is critical, it cannot come at the expense of a child’s safety, and this report puts forward a number of policy and statutory recommendations to help improve our system.
“I thank the Center for the Support of Families for their diligent work and expertise in conducting this review, as well as of the stakeholders who participated in this important process. I urge the Governor-elect and the legislature to work toward implementing these recommendations through the budget process and other legislation, because I know that we all share the same goal – doing everything that we can to prevent tragedies in the future and to ensure the safety and well-being of our children.”
A statement was also issued by Jeffrey A. Meyers, NH DHHS Commissioner:
“We must acknowledge the needs for changes and reform at DCYF that are recommended in the qualitative review by CFS. The recommendations in this review are comprehensive and it is evident that a great deal of work must be done to address them. The Department is committed to working with the Governor-Elect, the New Hampshire Legislature and the judicial system to review and address these recommendations in a timely and comprehensive manner in order to ensure that the child protection system in New Hampshire ensures the safety of children and families.
The following 20 recommendations were made by CSF for NH DHHS to improve safety and protection of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens, its at-risk children:
1. (Foundational and Monitoring): Develop an implementation teaming structure to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of this assessment and to monitor progress and make adjustments over time as needed.
2. (Foundational): Hire a sufficient number of assessment social workers to bring the total number of filled positions to 120, with the intent of reducing the current vacancy rate to at least 25 percent.
3. (Foundational): Hire a sufficient number of assessment supervisors to bring the total number of filled positions to 24, with the intent of reducing the current vacancy rate.
4. (Foundational): Resolve the current backlog of overdue assessments by assessing and closing open assessments that can be safely closed, and opening those where harm or substantial threats of future harm exist, and enforce the 60-day policy time frame for completing assessments on an ongoing basis so that a new backlog does not accrue.
5. (Foundational): Make deliberate efforts to provide better for the well-being of assessment staff in order to reduce turnover and absences due to work demands.
6. (Foundational and Monitoring): Implement the current DCYF plan for after-hours coverage of incoming maltreatment reports, and monitor its implementation and effectiveness jointly with law enforcement.
7 (Foundational): Re-design and implement parts of the DCYF pre-service training curriculum for social workers (and include content for DCYF attorneys) to focus on the clinical aspects of working with children and families in maltreatment situations.
8. (Foundational): Ensure the availability of ongoing training that is targeted to building the skills of social workers and supervisors to do their jobs well.
9. (Foundational): End the reliance on existing overworked field staff to deliver training and consider a distance learning approach to training.
10. (Foundational): Reinstitute the voluntary services program and provide in statute and/or policy for using this option to get needed services to children and families where there is high risk of harm to the child.
11. (Practice Improvement): Expand the options and requirements available for addressing substance abuse issues that place children at risk of harm, including drug testing during the assessment process where indicated, increasing the availability of drug courts in the State, expanding the availability of mother-child drug treatment facilities, and giving priority to child-welfare involved families in existing drug treatment services.
12. (Practice Improvement): Expand and build on trauma-focused services to children and families.
13. (Foundational): Align the standards of proof required for substantiating a report of maltreatment with what is needed in court to prove it (probable or reasonable cause vs. preponderance of the evidence).
14. (Foundational): Revise policy and/or statute to clarify that if the evidence in an assessment indicates that a child has been exposed to conditions that place the child at risk of future harm, the report should be determined founded and services for the family put into place.
15. (Practice Improvement): Revise the state’s statute on retention of records beyond three years.
16. (Foundational): Strengthen the State statute on the definition of neglect.
17. (Foundational): Ensure in practice that all children involved in an assessment are seen and interviewed if possible and appropriate, regardless of parental consent.
18. (Practice Improvement): Make deliberate efforts to work collaboratively with the medical, education, and law enforcement communities.
19. (Practice Improvement): Re-conceptualize the process of identifying safety threats and risks of harm associated with incoming reports of maltreatment.
20. (Practice Improvement): Improve quality of assessments (including assessing for substance abuse and the risk it poses, particularly to infants and young children, collateral contacts.)