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Jake Leon, director of communications for the state's Department of Health and Human Services, said the department is prioritizing review of the 13 child-health support providers in the state. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DCYF will begin 'structured and consistent' inspections of private child-health organizations


The state’s child-protective agency will start “structured and consistent” inspections of private child-health organizations, following last month’s parental abduction during a supervised visitation at the Mall of New Hampshire, state health officials announced Friday.

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced four other recommendations to address issues stemming from the April 28 incident, which prompted an Amber Alert before the 2-year-old boy was found in Massachusetts.

“All of the recommendations will be implemented, beginning immediately,” said Jake Leon, spokesman for DHHS.

The announcement comes after an independent review found that DCYF has struggled to keep up with its prime mission — the investigation and prevention of child abuse and neglect — because of budgets, burnout, poor administration and low pay.

Leon said DHHS is prioritizing review of the 13 child-health support providers in the state. The DCYF Bureau of Organizational Learning & Quality currently already conducts provider reviews and will help the foster care program conduct the new reviews, he said.

The boy was allegedly snatched by his mother during a supervised visitation under the auspices of Dover-based Home Base Collaborative Family Counseling, a private practice that is a certified Medicaid provider of child health support services.

According to previous media accounts, a Home Base social worker was on her mobile phone when the boy’s mother, Erika Wallace, 26, walked out of the food court with her son. Police have said that Joshua Wallace, 27, awaited the two in his van in the mall parking lot.

An Amber Alert was issued, and the parents were arrested in Tewksbury, Mass., during a stakeout of a local hotel by narcotics police. The boy was unharmed.

The abduction elicited criticism from both Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, with Sununu calling on his commissioner of health and human services to investigate what happened.

According to the DHHS, Deputy Commissioner Lori Shibinette performed a comprehensive quality assurance investigation and issued five recommendations:

• State rules should be changed to require DCYF to conduct structured and consistent compliance inspections of all child-health support service providers.

• DCYF should review each child health support service provider in the next 90 days and issue an inspection report.

• Home Base Collaborative Family Counseling should submit a correction plan within the next 60 days.

• A “concise but comprehensive” risk assessment tool should be created for the family of each child seen by child health support service providers.

• Rules should be rewritten to encourage consistent communication between DCYF and child health support service providers. That includes notification for any change in family risk levels.

“Supervised visits must be conducted in a safe and secure environment that protects children from potential risks, Gov. Sununu said in remarks distributed with the recommendations.

“These recommendations are an opportunity for DCYF and its contracted providers to examine and strengthen current practices to ensure that a safe and comprehensive array of services is provided to the children and families of New Hampshire.”

mhayward@unionleader.com


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