Major independent review of New Hampshire child protective services to be released

Monitor staff
Published: 12/18/2016 10:56:16 PM

A long-awaited independent review of the state’s child protective services will come out today amid continued calls for reform at the agency.

The findings and recommendations will be presented in a public meeting at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. The review was prompted a year ago in the wake of two high-profile child fatalities, and the results are coming out on the heels of yet another toddler death.

Roger Dana is accused of beating his 2-year-old daughter, Madison Dana, to death in Berlin last month. It’s not clear whether the Division for Children, Youth and Families had any prior contact with the family.

Both 21-month-old Sadie Willott and 3-year-old Brielle Gage had been under DCYF supervision before their deaths in 2015 and 2014, respectively. Brielle’s mother was recently convicted in her daughter’s murder, and Sadie’s mother has been charged.

Gov. Maggie Hassan called for the review a year ago, and in February the Center for the Support of Families was contracted to carry it out. The center reviewed 100 random cases in an attempt to identify consistent problems within the agency. While some advocates called for the center to complete a full fatality review of the Willott and Gage cases, Hassan’s office has said it’s not possible given the ongoing criminal cases. Still, her office said it directed the reviewers to meet with “key individuals” in the cases, including the Nashua and Manchester police chiefs.

Manchester police Chief Nick Willard, who accused DCYF of failing to protect Willott shortly after the toddler’s death in September 2015, said he was contacted by the center for the review.

The Center for the Support of Families already released a preliminary report in October that found DCYF doesn’t have enough staff to keep up with reports of child maltreatment. It recommended the agency bring on an additional 35 child protection workers above the current 85.

While national standards recommend a social worker have no more than 12 active assessments at one time, DCYF workers said they were assigned 15 new cases a month on average, the report found.

The report also discovered that DCYF did not close most assessments within the required 60-day window, leading to a large backlog of open cases. Workers interviewed for the report named a heavy caseload as the leading cause of turnover and overdue assessments.

DCYF reform is expected to be a major focus of the upcoming legislative session. A Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities formed after Gage’s death is now working on a proposal to create an office of the child advocate to independently oversee DCYF. The commission successfully spearheaded several bills last session, including one that improves record sharing between DCYF and the police and another that makes it easier for social workers to quickly remove a child from a dangerous home.

The meeting today will be at the Department of Health and Human Services building off Hazen Drive at 1 p.m.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or


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