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Job ad posted for new DCYF watchdog role



Monitor staff
Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A newly created watchdog position overseeing New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families is now open to applications, legislators announced Tuesday.

The job – director of the new Office of the Child Advocate – will carry out independent oversight over the division, which is seeking to rehabilitate after being roiled by controversy.

Ads for the role have been posted on Indeed.com and other job websites, according to Sen. Sharon Carson, a member of the Oversight Commission on Children’s Services, which is the body tasked with choosing the leader. Prospective applicants currently have two weeks to apply, though that deadline could be extended as needed, Carson said.

“Step one was getting it up online, so it’s up online,” said Carson, a Londonderry Republican. Step two is for the commission to reconvene and review the applicant field, she said.

The new role, created last legislative session with House Bill 517, is designed to provide accountability over the child and family services agency amid low staffing, high caseloads and a pair of high-profile child deaths in recent years. The children – Brielle Gage, 3, from Nashua; and Sadie Willott, 6 months old, from Manchester – were both beaten to death by their mothers despite numerous warnings to DCYF. The deaths sparked outcry and led to a series of investigations into the agency, revealing high turnover and an overworked staff.

Reporting to the governor, legislators and leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services, the director Office of the Child Advocate will be tasked with monitoring DCYF “to assure that the best interests of children are being protected,” according to the online job description. Other responsibilities include conducting educational outreach on behalf of the new office and providing referrals to families looking for help.

Applicants are required to have a professional graduate degree – preferably in social work, public health or law – and to have experience evaluating and overseeing social service programs. Candidates aren’t required to hail from New Hampshire, but are expected to be versed in the state Legislature and local government, the posting says.

An exact salary has not been specified – Carson said that would hammered out at the commission’s upcoming Oct. 11 meeting – though the job carries a range of $69,800 to $92,700, according to the ad.

It was unclear whether the open position, posted Monday, had attracted any applications. A spokesperson for the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees state hiring efforts, was not immediately available to comment.

But with the ad posted, the job of choosing candidates now falls to the Oversight Commission, which is charged with selecting and referring three potential candidates to Gov. Chris Sununu. That 16-member commission, comprising lawmakers, advocates and law enforcement, has created a three-person subcommittee to narrow down the applicants.

Exactly how long the recommendation process will take is not known. Speaking after the commission’s second meeting, David Boutin, a former Republican state senator and chairman of the body, said the multistage approval process could take time, but that it was the commission’s “top priority to get this position filled.”

Carson expressed more optimism about the timetable.

“Before Christmas,” she said, leaving the meeting. But she specified that the time it takes to fill the job will depend on demand.

Tuesday’s committee meeting was also attended by DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers and Senior Division Director Christine Tappan, who answered questions from lawmakers on progress made at the child and family services agency.

Tappan has helped manage DCYF since her appointment in May, after the division’s director Lorraine Bartlett was put on leave in March. The newly appointed incoming director, Joseph Ribsam, starts the job Oct. 27 and will report to Tappan.

Responding to concerns over division staffing levels, Tappan acknowledged that the division is still facing difficulties. This summer, 17 case assessment workers left the department, figures show. To date, the department has filled just 102 of its 125 total case assessment positions at DCYF, with many of those workers still undergoing training.

But Tappan said she thinks the division’s staffing woes could be turning a corner. On Oct. 21, 34 child protection social workers will graduate from training, bolstering the ranks of employees in the field. Four of the 20 new positions created in the latest budget have been filled, with applications sent in for the remaining 16. And Tappan predicted that the recent infusion of resources will prevent some at the department from leaving early.

“There is still work to do,” she said. “This is just the beginning of turning the curve, I think.”

Speaking after the meeting, Boutin, who as a senator founded the Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities, expressed cautious optimism.

“Think about DCYF as an ocean liner,” he said. “It’s turning. It’s getting lined up in the right place it should be, and we’re moving forward. But there’s more to be done.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)