Report finds continuing struggle at DCYF to meet demand 

Monitor staff
Published: 8/17/2018 4:52:40 PM

New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families is still struggling to cut through its backlog of cases and adequately serve at-risk children and families, a federal review released Friday concluded.

In a 42-page report, the U.S. Administration for Children and Families found that New Hampshire’s agency is falling behind in seven key metrics for child services agencies, including that children be protected from abuse and neglect and that they are “safely maintained in their homes whenever possible.”

DCYF is additionally “not in substantial conformity” within a range of other categories, such as case review systems, staff and provider training and foster and adoptive parent licensing, recruitment and retention, the federal agency found.

The report was based on a review of 65 DCYF cases over the past year. Following the report, New Hampshire officials now have 90 days to submit a “Program Improvement Plan” in which it must address how it plans to turn around its shortcomings.

“We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with you in your efforts to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children and families in New Hampshire,” said Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the federal agency, in a letter to New Hampshire officials.

 New Hampshire’s DCYF has been mired in controversy in recent years after a string of high-profile deaths of children under its care exposed major failings. While strides have been made in recent years to increase funding and staffing, turnover remains high and an unrelenting caseload has contributed to workplace stress among caseworkers.

In its review, the federal agency found numerous practices that it says prevent DCYF from ensuring better – and safer – outcomes.

To start, the report said, high caseloads were affecting the quality of work by staff members, and interfering with the ability for caseworkers to meet regularly with children and their families for checkups.

Perhaps because of that, the agency also found that the risk assessments carried out by the agency to make sure children are safe was “concerning,” and that workers often fail to implement adequate safety plans in homes where risk is identified.

Meanwhile, DCYF is lagging behind when it comes to setting up adoption, reunification and guardianship arrangement for kids in its care, the report found. Part of that stems from the state agency’s approach of dealing with those cases “consecutively rather than concurrently,” forcing some children to wait until others’ have their cases entirely resolved, according to the report.

Altogether, the lapses add up to a less-than-ideal picture of the services available, the report said.

“Assessing needs and linking families to services is a critical practice in child welfare,” the report noted. “Even when needs and services are appropriately identified, children and families being served by DCYF face a diminished service array.”

For Milner, Friday’s report is not his first encounter with New Hampshire’s family child services agency. In 2016, working in a different role as vice president of the nonprofit Center for the Support of Families, Milner spearheaded an outside review of the agency that found severe deficiencies and prompted a string of legislative changes in the subsequent years.

In a statement, Gov. Chris Sununu sought to highlight those changes. Acknowledging the report’s findings, he pointed to a number of bills passed in the last year to create new positions at DCYF, saying that the extra employees, when hired, will help stem the tide of cases.

Those include House Bill 400, which in 2017 amended the reporting process to allow for the system to recognize and store more potential abuse cases; Senate Bill 590, which expanded the state loan repayment program to encourage DCYF workers to stay in New Hampshire; and Senate Bill 592, which created 31 new positions within the division.

“These initiatives will create a stronger system of care to address many of the concerns raised in the CFSR report,” he said. “This will help ensure the safety and permanency of children in New Hampshire.”

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