CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire child welfare workers who abruptly closed hundreds of abuse and neglect investigations in 2016 adequately addressed safety concerns in the vast majority of cases reviewed by an outside firm, but they still have a backlog of more than 2,000 complaints nearly two years later.
The state Division for Children, Youth and Families already was under scrutiny after the deaths of two toddlers when the Concord Monitor reported 1,500 investigations were closed without full assessments during a two-day period in February 2016. As a result, the division’s director was put on leave and later replaced, and an outside firm was hired to review the closings to ensure that children weren’t left unsafe.
Officials later said only 598 cases were administratively closed, and the firm, Eckerd Connects, reviewed 100 of the most serious cases. In a report released Thursday, Eckerd Connects said it found only two cases in which caseworkers failed to appropriately intervene or monitor an intervention but in both cases, the children in question are currently safe.
Eckerd pointed out several areas in need of improvement, including documenting that background checks are done on all parents and caretakers; interviewing parents and caregivers who don’t live in the home; and interviewing neighbors and other relatives. But instead of trying to review the remaining cases, the group urged the state to focus on the “urgent need” to address its current workload.
“In particular, available additional resources would be more appropriately targeted to the more than 2,200 overdue assessments that were open to the agency as of Nov. 16, 2017,” Eckerd wrote.
The division is focused on that backlog, said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, who noted that the Executive Council recently approved a contract with Child and Family Services to work with the department in closing overdue assessments.
“Addressing staffing recruitment and retention, staff training, reviewing and revising DCYF policies, and appointing new leadership for DCYF are key actions that have been taken and are continuing,” he said.
Eckerd’s recommendations are in line with other recommendations made in a separate review of DCYF ordered by former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan after the toddler deaths. In a report released just over a year ago, the Center for the Support of Families said the state does a good job when children have been hurt or are in immediate danger, but too often fails to help those who are at risk of future harm. In many cases, allegations of neglect were deemed unfounded when children were exposed to domestic violence or their parents’ substance misuse if the parents said they wouldn’t do it again or would seek treatment, the group said.
Numerous task forces and committees have been studying various aspects of the state’s child protection system, including the Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities. One of its members, Rep. Joe Guthrie, said Friday he hadn’t yet read the Eckerd report but said he believes DCYF is making progress.
“I think we are moving in the right direction,” said Guthrie, R-Hampstead.