Foster parents’ rights bill met with skepticism by DCYF official

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 2/3/2018 12:02:03 AM

Legislation seeking to establish a “bill of rights” for New Hampshire foster parents ran into new barriers Friday, after a top official from the Division of Children, Youth and Families raised concerns it would constrain the agency’s operations.

Sponsored by Rep. Sean Morrison, R-Epping, House Bill 1562 would create a set of legal guarantees for foster parents dealing with DCYF and the court system over custodial disputes. Among the guarantees: the right to make decisions over who the child moves to live with next; the right to set meetings with the agency and receive background information on each child in a timely manner; and the right to receive fair payments for the care given to the child.

Foster parents say the bill would provide safeguards against what they say are unfair or negligent practices at the agency – from slow response times to child removals carried out without ample warning or opportunity for redress.

At a Jan. 23 hearing before the House Children and Family Law committee, many of those parents recounted DCYF experiences from dissatisfying to traumatic.

But at a subcommittee hearing Friday to workshop the bill, Joseph Ribsam, the newly appointed DCYF director, said that codifying the rules into law could overly tie the hands of the agency, which is fighting a crisis in staffing and work overload.

The Department of Health and Human Services has had plans in the works, according to Morrison, but Ribsam and others said that the issues it faces make the timing inopportune.

“An awful lot of the challenges that we’re seeing right now in the foster care system are a result of kind of the overall challenges we’re having throughout (DCYF) at large,” he said in an interview after the hearing. Tackling those challenges would be better accomplished by increased agency resources than new laws, he added.

Rep. Mariellen MacKay, R-Nashua, herself a former foster parent, argued that passing the laws would create an adversarial relationship between parents and the agency.

“I think if you take, and you regulate, and you demand, and you say let’s legislate every move and breath you make, you’re making a mistake,” she said.

But advocates say that relationship is already strained. Speaking after the hearing, Morrison said major stakeholders in DCYF had sit down with foster parents, and that families are frustrated with department attitudes.

The laws, he said, would give guarantees for what DCYF should be already doing.

“What blows my mind is that they say they can’t do what is already existing in their own rules because they need more money,” Morrison said. “And that making their own rules law, so they actually have to be done – they can’t do that.”

Still, members of the three-member subcommittee appeared sympathetic to Ribsam’s criticisms, and scheduled a work session for Monday to comb through the bill. The legislation is early on in its journey; however the subcommittee votes, it will still face a committee vote before heading to the floor.

But if the bill tanks, Morrison warns, it’s only a matter of time before the complaints move over to the courts.

“I think what’s going to happen is a class action lawsuit from foster parents,” he said. “That’s what I think is going to be necessary.”

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

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