Editor’s note: Child Advocate Moira O’Neill made the following comment in response to the concerns raised below by DHHS:
“Our 2019 Annual Report demonstrates the work of the Office of the Child Advocate over the past year. It was a remarkably full and productive year for a 3-person staff. We are pleased to have been able to engage so many stakeholders who kept children front and center on the policy agenda. No one office or agency could have achieved such extensive investment in the DCYF workforce and expansion of community services for children alone. We are especially grateful for the partnerships we experienced with DCYF frontline staff and administrators who sat with us through very hard conversations as we unearthed opportunities to strengthen the system. We are mindful of the discomforts of being the subject of “oversight” and have deepest respect for DCYF staff who recognized our mandate to ensure the best interests of children are protected as being aligned with their own mission. There is a lot more work to be done but there are some good people willing to do the work.”
Statements in Response to the Office of the Child Advocate’s Annual Report
Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued statements from DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette and Joe Ribsam, Director of the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), in response to the annual report issued today by the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA).
Statement of Joe Ribsam, DCYF Director:
“DCYF appreciates the time and attention the OCA invested to prepare such a comprehensive report. While DCYF and the OCA may not always perfectly agree on issues of policy, priority, or messaging, we appreciate the OCA’s support for the broader child welfare system transformation efforts. Most of those recent efforts have focused on aligning and collaborating with stakeholders toward our common goal of strengthening families and keep children safe and well. Much of the OCA’s report demonstrates how critical it is for all child welfare stakeholders to work together to realize our collective vision for New Hampshire’s system of child wellbeing and family strengthening.
“In the two years since the OCA was established, much of the work at DCYF has been focused on diagnosing system challenges and working with stakeholders and policy makers so we can overcome those challenges. Due to the commitment of Governor Chris Sununu and the State Legislature, the current State budget has positioned DCYF and the broader child and family serving system to make the fundamental system improvements to the benefit of New Hampshire’s children, youth, and families. Among the highlights in 2019, more children and youth exited the child protection system than entered it, a significant development and an early indicator of a healthy system. As a result of DCYF’s efforts to keep kids safe in their homes, fewer children are entering into out-of-home care and more families receiving the help they need while remaining intact.
“DCYF also continues to aggressively recruit for and fill open positions, including holding monthly ‘Job Fests’ that lead to about 25 interviews and 10 new hires each month. The Job Fest interviewing and onboarding process has led to 66 newly-hired CPSWs since June, exceeding the 63 CPSWs hired the preceding year. As we have recruited additional DCYF team members, we have seen a positive impact on overall caseloads.
“Now, as we embark into the complex and extensive work of implementing scores of improvements across our child and family systems, DCYF is hopeful that the collaborative support of the Governor, the legislature, the OCA, and our stakeholders can continue to propel us toward a brighter future for New Hampshire’s children, youth, and families.”
Statement of DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette:
“I appreciate the OCA’s efforts to develop this report, which highlights their efforts to help families in New Hampshire. During my time at DHHS, I have seen firsthand how dedicated the staff, supervisors and administrators of DCYF are to collaborating with the OCA and other stakeholders that serve children, youth and families. So it is disappointing that the OCA’s annual report fails to acknowledge the important accomplishments of DCYF in the past year, including:
• For the first time since 2015, more children are exiting from out of home care than entering.
• Removed the barriers to recruitment by creating a streamlined hiring process. The DCYF “Job Fest” has resulted in a 42% increase in hiring as compared to the same period last year.
• CPSWs averaged a caseload of 38 assessments in January 2020, down from an average caseload of 93 assessments in January 2016.
• Partnered with the Bureau of Housing Stability to secure 65 new Family Unification Program housing vouchers to support families who are at risk of having children enter out of home care due to housing instability and for youth transitioning out of DCYF care.
• Implemented a brand new internal voluntary service option to work with families before a finding of child abuse and neglect, serving more than 417 children and families in the last state fiscal year and 382 children and families so far this year.
“When it comes to what we all want – transforming the child welfare system – collaboration is key. All stakeholders must effectively work together if we are to realize our shared vision. The OCA’s annual report is filled with recommendations that DCYF and other stakeholders be more collaborative and communicate more effectively. I strongly encourage the OCA to acknowledge its responsibilities in this area by implementing those recommendations and taking a more collaborative approach to its work.”