Editorial: Office of the Child Advocate key to fixing DCYF

Published: 4/14/2017 12:03:42 AM

On Sunday, the first day of a four-part series on the crisis within the Division for Children, Youth and Families, the Monitor’s Allie Morris told the heartbreaking story of 3-year-old Brielle Gage, who was beaten to death in 2014. On Monday, she wrote about the 25 New Hampshire children who have died of abuse or neglect since 2010. On Wednesday, she wrote about burnout among case workers.

As Morris’s series proves, the citizens of New Hampshire do not need any more evidence that DCYF is failing in its mission to protect the state’s children. They don’t need any more consultants’ reports. They don’t need any more feel-good Band-Aids applied to a badly broken system. They need actions that create real change.

In the final installment of the series, Morris highlighted some of the half-measures planned or under way to address the DCYF crisis: the Department of Health and Human Services has added 22 new child protection positions, but filled only 11; the proposed budget includes $4.4 million to hire more staff, but who knows whether the money will survive the legislative carving knife; and child protection workers are cleared for four hours of overtime each week, but it’s unclear how much that will help them make a dent in a 2,800-case backlog.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Sharon Carson, however, represents the kind of change we believe is necessary. She proposes establishing an independent Office of the Child Advocate, reporting directly to the governor.

An OCA would provide much-needed support to overwhelmed DCYF workers and administrators, while making sure that New Hampshire children receive the services they need – quickly and efficiently. The office would also provide the kind of oversight and transparency that is necessary to identify and implement improvements when the system fails.

Massachusetts has had an OCA for a decade, and the New Hampshire Legislature is now considering whether to follow suit. We believe the case for why it should is tragically clear. A strong, transparent and independent Office of the Child Advocate is necessary if the state is to adequately protect its children.

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