DCYF commission months away from picks for oversight director

Monitor staff
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The commission’s charge is clear: Find and recommend three candidates to lead a new office overseeing the state’s beleaguered Division for Children, Youth and Families. But for members of the Oversight Commission on Children’s Services and Juvenile Justice, the search is already getting complicated,

A day after the commission’s first meeting Tuesday – itself held a month after its required date – participants said the process could take months.

“It’s not unrealistic to think that this position might not be filled until maybe early next spring,” said former Republican senator David Boutin, who on Tuesday was elected chairman of the commission.

The commission faces a Nov. 1 deadline for its first public report; Boutin and others say that it would be nearly impossible to have drafted a three-person shortlist of candidates by then. The commission will instead likely file an update on its status, and then aim to secure its candidate list ahead of the next filing deadline, May 1, he and other members said.

Slowing down the process, say members, is the gravity of the task at hand. The position they’re filling is the director the Office of the Child Advocate, a new body designed to oversee DCYF after an independent review found that the agency has too few staff members to respond to maltreatment reports and rarely substantiates reports of abuse.

The agency came under statewide scrutiny after 3-year-old Brielle Gage and 21-month-old Sadee Willott were killed by their mothers in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Agency records show DCYF had investigated multiple reports of abuse and neglect involving the girls before their deaths.

Now, the 16-member oversight commission – comprising advocates, lawmakers, lawyers and police chiefs – must find the right person to lead an office meant as part watchdog, part liaison between the public and the division.

Boutin said he is hoping the commission can find someone with the versatility to handle anxious citizens worried about the status of their DCYF cases in addition to lawmakers scrutinizing the agency’s reforms.

“A very key question to ask (the candidates) is “How are you going to set up your office so that you can interact in a meaningful way with the public?’ ” he said.

The governor will make the final nomination, which requires Executive Council approval.

At the meeting Tuesday, the outlines of the selection process remained murky, members said.

At the urging of Manchester police Chief Nick Willard, the commission agreed to set up a formal application process in which interested candidates will have to volunteer themselves rather than being sought out. The commission then created a three-person subcommittee to screen incoming resumes and produce a list for the full group to vote on.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry; Rep. Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham; and Willard will serve on that committee.

But the exact job requirements of the position, as well as legal technicalities related to proper hiring protocol for state employees, were unclear Tuesday, members said. Carson promised to speak to the Department of Administrative Services and brief the committee at a later meeting.

Speaking on the extended selection time frame, Willard said he hoped the commission’s delayed start would not hamper the ability to pick a leader.

“It is unfortunate that we’re past the 45 days before we started this, because this is a very important issue,” he said. “It’s a very important position to bring forward to the governor.”

But he added that the dedication of the commission’s members bodes well for the overall goals of the commission, asked to “support an effective, comprehensive and coordinated system of services and programs for children, youth and families.”

Commission member Keryn Bernard-Kriegl, executive director of New Hampshire Children’s Trust, agreed.

“I hope that there will be respectful discourse and that things will really be put on the table for discussion,” she said. “Our children need a voice, and that’s what we need to do for them.”

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