Senate calls for outside oversight of child services agency

Associated Press
Friday, March 17, 2017

The state Senate wants to create an Office of the Child Advocate to keep watch over New Hampshire’s embattled child services agency.

“This continues to be a very troubled division,” Republican Sen. Sharon Carson said. “We have had children die – we cannot forget what’s going on.”

Carson joined fellow senators Thursday in strongly backing a bill aimed at holding the Division for Children, Youth and Families more accountable. The agency has been under scrutiny following several high-profile child deaths and a report that it doesn’t have enough staff to appropriately handle the volume of cases. Director Lorraine Bartlett was placed on leave earlier this week after the Monitor reported that DCYF suspended procedures last year to quickly close out 1,500 cases.

“We need to start asking some very serious questions so we can get to the bottom of what has happened,” Carson said.

The Office of the Child Advocate would provide outside oversight of DCYF, with access to some of the agency’s records and the ability to subpoena witnesses. DCYF would be required to immediately report any child death to the office, which would submit an annual report on the agency to lawmakers.

The bill also creates an Oversight Commission Children’s Services and Juvenile Justice tasked with analyzing the effectiveness of DCYF’s programs. And it would make the head of DCYF an assistant health commissioner, who must be approved by the Executive Council for a four-year term.

Republican Sen. John Reagan was the sole lawmaker to speak out against the bill. He called DCYF a “demoralized agency” trying to become “reinvigorated” in its mission, but then said that the agency is working on internal reforms and now isn’t the right time to change course.

Earlier Thursday, senators rejected a proposal to hire more DCYF workers. Republican lawmakers said adding more workers would be part of the budget.