The greatest civil rights crisis in NH history
Why hasn’t the state stepped up to address its massive child protection failures?
As you assess the public debate regarding New Hampshire’s failure to protect children in abuse and neglect settings, you should be aware of a series of facts that no news report has conveyed to you at this point in a systematic fashion.
This massive civil rights crisis involving children who are victims of state abuse and neglect is one of the most egregiously underreported and misunderstood public occurrences in recent times:
• RSA 169-C is a state law. It requires that “each child” subject to abuse and neglect “shall receive, preferably in his own home, the care, emotional security, guidance and control that will promote the child’s best interest.” This is a legal mandate. The law also provides that New Hampshire “take such action as may be necessary to prevent the abuse and neglect of children.” This too is a legal mandate.
• In 2015, Gov. Maggie Hassan solicited an audit of the Division of Children Youth and Families that was published in December 2016 and detailed major shortcomings in our child protective services system. No previous audit had been solicited or performed by an outside vendor of DCYF. It is available at https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcyf/documents/csf-qa-review-report.pdf.
• In the winter and spring of 2017, the Concord Monitor ran an important series titled “Fatal Flaws” that linked the deaths of children to the systemic failures of DCYF.
• On Feb. 14, 2017, the Legislature proposed an ombudsman office to oversee DCYF. “A recent report looking into the department listed many systemic problems in the department. Many of the problems were unknown to anyone outside of the department,” said NH Sen. Sharon Carson at the time.
• During the same debate, Commissioner Jeff Meyers stated: “In 2011, there was a $20 million cut by the Legislature to child services and those funds have not been restored.”
• In July 2017, Rep. Mary Jane Wallner and Sen. Dan Feltes informed the public that the 2017 budget failed to provide for voluntary services funding — a foundational requirement of the 2016 audit report.
• In March 2018, top New Hampshire officials told the Legislature that caseloads were too high and that DCYF was unable to protect children from abuse and neglect.
• In March 2018, top New Hampshire officials presented statistics demonstrating that increased reports of abuse and neglect are a product of recent demographic changes that did not exist to the same extent a decade ago, including those associated with the so-called opioid epidemic.
• In March 2018, there remained over 2,000 open cases that were overdue for assessment within DCYF. In other words, there were 2,000 cases where the state is violating the law in regard to addressing reports that children are being abused or neglected.
• In March 2018, the Legislature issued a series of bills designed to address shortfalls in funding to DCYF that were not addressed in the state’s initial budget.
• In March 2018, the Office of Child Advocate issued a public release stating that the death of a child at the hands of his father was “a clear case of a family that could have benefited from Voluntary Services if they existed… Voluntary Services are supports for families at risk of, but not found to be abusive or neglectful. They were eliminated in New Hampshire in recent years, a key deficiency noted by an independent review of DCYF in 2016. Three bills aimed at reinstituting funding for these kinds of preventative efforts are currently before the Legislature.” The three bills included spending that totaled $5.5 million in additional spending.
• In May 2018, the New Hampshire Attorney General settled a case in which two children sued DCYF for failing to protect them for $7 million. Additional lawsuits are pending or have been settled involving similar subject matter.
• On July 26, 2018, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services issued a report indicating that the state continues to fall short of its obligations and the report was reported as giving the state failing marks.
• On Aug. 25, 2018, reports issued that New Hampshire settled a case with a whistleblower who alleged she received retaliation for bringing the agency’s dysfunction to the attention of management.
• On Aug. 31, 2018, Gov. Chris Sununu stated that DCYF was a “disaster” and called the entire matter of child protective services in New Hampshire the “DCYF Crisis.”
• As of today’s date: There has been no special legislative session to address or mitigate this crisis nor have there been proposals for “disaster” relief by any state or federal official.
Michael S. Lewis is a Concord attorney.