DCYF won’t say whether or not abuse case lead to internal changes

  • Rus Rilee speaks at the press conference announcing a lawsuit filed against the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) and families’ call for immediate reform of the agency. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 10/21/2016 11:53:19 PM

The day after a lawsuit landed accusing the state of failing to prevent the sexual abuse of two young girls, officials at the Division for Children, Youth and Families are declining to say whether they ever internally reviewed the 2013 case from which the suit stems or changed any policies as a result.

“By statute, the Department is not able to comment on individual cases,” said Jake Leon, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services which includes DCYF. “But as a matter of process, DCYF reviews a case’s outcome to continuously improve the rules and procedures that exist to protect children from abuse and neglect.”

The case is now at the center of the civil lawsuit that was filed against the state and Easter Seals on Thursday. It alleges the parties failed to protect two girls – then ages 4 and 18 months – from “horrific” sexual abuse by their biological parents, despite repeated warnings both family members and the police. 

The lawsuit was brought by attorney Rus Rilee on behalf of the children’s grandparents, who are now the children’s adoptive parents.

It claims that employees disregarded concerns about possible abuse and relaxed their supervisory requirements by permitting closed-door visits between the children and their parents, during which the two girls were sexually abused. 

The mother and father later pleaded guilty in 2014 to felonious sexual assault charges and to manufacturing child pornography. Each was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. 

Leon, citing confidentiality around personnel files, declined to say whether the department took any disciplinary action against the employee referenced in the lawsuit. She is currently employed at the department as a child protective service worker III, he said. 

While state confidentiality laws generally shield cases of child abuse and neglect from public view, Rilee was able to file the case in the open after the state’s Supreme Court ruled in his favor. It’s the first of several Rilee plans to bring forward on behalf of other families. The cases are poised to shine a rare spotlight on allegations of negligence at DCYF.

The agency has been under intense scrutiny in the wake of two high-profile toddler deaths within a year. Reform has been slow moving, advocates say. But several laws meant to improve efficiency at the agency were passed this year and a major independent review of DCYF is due to be released next month. 

The lawsuit says some of the incidents of abuse occurred during “bath time” with the parents, while an Easter Seals caseworker was in another room. 

When asked whether the state would audit or review its agreements with the organizations, a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office said the state constantly reviews contracts to make sure the state’s needs are being met.

Easter Seals has a long track record of “providing critical services to the people of New Hampshire, including our most vulnerable citizens,” said spokesman William Hinkle in an email. “Any missed opportunity to protect our children is a tragedy, and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice are reviewing the specific contract under which the services in this case were provided as part of the pending litigation.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.) 

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