Governor Chris Sununu and NH Department of Health and Human Services Release Eckerd Connects'
Concord, NH – Governor Chris Sununu and NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeffrey A. Meyers today released the Quality Assurance Review conducted by Eckerd Connects of the child protection assessments that were administratively closed by the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in February of 2016. DHHS initiated the retrospective review to assure that the decisions to close overdue cases were not contrary to the safety of the children who were alleged to have been abused or neglected.
This review was conducted as part of HHS's quality assurance program under RSA 126-A:4. The stated goal of reviews conducted under that law is to monitor and evaluate "the appropriateness of services provided to individuals served by the department or any of its contract service providers so that problems or trends in the delivery of services are identified and steps to correct problems can be taken." 126-A:4, IV (a). The law requires that certain quality assurance program records be kept confidential. However, because DHHS is a state agency (as opposed to a private service provider), remedial steps may require action by the Governor and Executive Council and/or the legislature, with input from the general public. This review is therefore being released in order to ensure that all relevant information is readily available when future actions are considered.
The review found that the vast majority of cases were closed with appropriate consideration for the safety of the children involved. However, the review identified areas that need improvement, including information gathering, home assessment, background checks, contact frequency and collateral contacts. These concerns are consistent with the findings of qualitative assessment review conducted by the Center for the Support of Families (CSF) published in December 2016. All of the assessments were administratively closed before CSF conducted the Qualitative Assurance Review and issued its findings.
"The Department has taken numerous actions to address the concerns identified by Eckerd Connect, as well as to continue implementing the recommendations of the independent review of DCYF by the Center for the Support of Families," said Commissioner Meyers. "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. The Department is also working closely with the child welfare stakeholders on a Child Welfare Systems Transformation initiative to ensure the safety and well-being of the children of New Hampshire."
Of the 598 assessments administratively closed in January 2016, Eckerd Connects utilized a risk-based approach to identify and review 100 assessments identified as higher risk, such as assessments with a prior history of abuse or neglect allegations, a child under the age of five in the home, and/or sexual abuse allegations. Of the 100 assessments reviewed, one was identified as a concern needing additional follow up. That assessment was reopened, reassessed and determined to have no current safety concerns.
"As a parent, I know that the State has no greater responsibility than protecting the safety of our children," said Governor Sununu. "While we have made significant progress in instituting key reforms, there is still more work to be done. I look forward to working with Commissioner Meyers and legislative leaders as we continue our efforts to implement the recommendations of both the CSF and Eckerd reports. Our children are depending on us and we will not let them down."
Based on the reforms currently underway, and the results of this initial review, Eckerd Connects recommended that DCYF continue implementing the recommendations from the CSF review and continue to focus its resources on the existing backlog of overdue assessments. To this end, the Governor and Executive Council recently approved a contract with Child and Family Services to work with the Department in closing overdue assessments.
DCYF officials have shared the Eckerd Connects report with the Oversight Commission on Children's Services, the Commission on Child Fatalities, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Independent Review of DCYF, the DCYF Advisory Board and Legislative Leadership. DCYF and DHHS will continue to work closely with these groups, Governor Sununu and child protection stakeholders on the implementation of the CSF recommendations and the Child Welfare Systems Transformation initiative.
Eckerd Connects' Report on DCYF Administratively Closed Assessments is available at: https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcyf/documents/final-eckerd-report.pdf .For more information on the Child Welfare Systems Transformation, please visit https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dcyf/documents/cwst-handout.pdf .