State Sen. Dan Feltes: Invest in protecting New Hampshire children

For the Monitor
Published: 3/14/2018 12:15:33 AM

In order to move New Hampshire forward, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind, especially our children. On child protection, we can no longer manage at a constant crisis level. We must invest in cost-effective child protection measures that prevent the mistreatment of children from happening in the first place.

Recently, Gov. Chris Sununu’s appointed child advocate concluded the failure to reinstate the voluntary services program for at-risk children and families may have led to the tragic death of a child in Derry. Voluntary services for at-risk children and families was a key recommendation in the independent audit report of the Division of Children, Youth and Families released in December of 2016. It was also requested by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services during the agency phase of the budget process. In spite of these recommendations, Gov. Sununu did not fund voluntary services in his budget proposed in early 2017. Then, attempts by Senate Democrats to add voluntary services to the budget in 2017 were rejected by our Republican colleagues in the majority.

On July 16, Rep. Mary Jane Wallner and I wrote a column for the Monitor, titled “Tax breaks for the wealthy over child protection,” outlining how Gov. Sununu’s budget prioritized additional tax breaks for big corporations, many with headquarters out-of-state, instead of adequately addressing child protection, including foster care and voluntary services. In too many ways, our children have been left behind in the effort to combat the opioid public health epidemic, which has exacerbated our child protection crisis. Generations of children have been affected and it impacts our schools, our communities and our economic future. It’s time for the state to step up. Fortunately, with legislative leadership from Sen. Jeb Bradley and Sen. Sharon Carson, proposals being considered in the Senate today will help correct many of the child protection deficiencies in Gov. Sununu’s budget: SB 582, SB 590, SB 592. A few days ago Gov. Sununu said he supports these legislative proposals.

These bills will help reduce DCYF caseloads, help with foster care, and help with critical services that prevent the future mistreatment of children, including finally reinstating voluntary services. Providing DCYF the necessary staff and resources it needs to do its job is good for our kids, good for our schools and good for taxpayers. Let’s pass these measures today, let’s ensure they don’t get watered down in the process, and let’s remember the words of Nelson Mandela, who once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

(Sen. Dan Feltes is a former legal aid attorney who lives in the South End of Concord. He represents Concord, Hopkinton, Henniker, Warner and Penacook in the New Hampshire Senate. Dan is a co-sponsor of SB 582 and SB 590, and serves on the Joint Legislative Committee to Examine the Independent Audit of DCYF with Sens. Jeb Bradley and Sharon Carson.)

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