CONCORD — New Hampshire does not have nearly enough social workers to keep up with a growing number of child abuse and neglect cases, according to the preliminary report of an outside agency hired to investigate child abuse fatalities in the state.
The interim report by the Center for the Support of Families, based in Silver Spring, Md., was released on Wednesday, and it confirms much of what lawmakers have been hearing for the past year — the Division of Children, Youth and Families is grossly understaffed, sees turnover among social workers that is well above national averages, and allows investigations of abuse and neglect to remain open well beyond the 60 days required in DCYF’s own policy manual.
The report revealed that only 20 percent of the cases reviewed were either closed or moved to the next phase within the 60 days.
The outside consultants reviewed data going back to February of 2006, and discovered that the percent of assessments completed on time has remained consistent, between 15 and 30 percent, even as the number of assessments began to spike in 2012 with the advent of the opioid addiction crisis.
The interim report from CFS can be viewed below:
Between February of 2006 and February of 2012, the number of assessments completed each month was in the 100 to 200 range. But the numbers began to climb dramatically in late 2012, and by 2013 were hitting in the 800 range. There were months in 2015 and in the past year when the department completed as many as 1,000 assessments.
The overwhelming majority of social workers interviewed, 81 percent, identified workload as the leading cause of overdue assessments, according to the report.
While national standards call for no more than 12 active cases per social worker at any one time, New Hampshire case workers carry a far heavier load.
“We heard from some social workers that they had case loads as high as 70 open assessments,” the report states. Of the 33 social workers surveyed, the average current monthly case load was 53.
Each social worker handling abuse investigations is getting an average of 15 new reports of abuse or neglect each month, even as others pile up unresolved. The result is high turnover among a demoralized work force that is in constant transition.
“With such a high number of new assignments each month, and a 60-day policy window to complete them, it’s not difficult to see how the backlog of incomplete assessments has accumulated,” the report states.
Turnover was cited as the number one reason the department has not been able to maintain adequate staffing, and reducing turnover will be one of its most significant challenges.
The study concludes that without reducing turnover, the department would need 134 social worker positions, compared to the 85 currently allocated. It goes one to say that if the vacancy rate can be reduced from 33 percent a month to 25 percent, the department would be able to get by with 120.
Commissioner of Health and Human Services Jeffrey Meyers, in releasing the interim study, announced that he is already moving to create 17 new social worker and five new supervisor positions by taking existing vacant positions from other divisions in his department.
“These will increase the total authorized caseworker positions to 102, which is still short of the 120 recommended by the Center for Support of Families,” he said.
The outside consulting firm was hired by the state to investigate child protection practices at the Division of Children, Youth and Families after two high-profile homicides involving children whose cases were under DCYF review.
Manchester attorney Rus Rilee, representing the estates of 3-year-old Brielle Gage of Nashua and 21-month-old Sadie Willott of Manchester, is preparing a lawsuit over DCYF’s handling of both cases. He recently obtained a state Supreme Court order that will enable him to file that lawsuit in open court.