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DCYF chief ousted for tossed reports


CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu effectively fired DCYF Director Lorraine Bartlett on Monday, citing a newspaper report that she prematurely closed 1,520 investigations of child abuse or neglect over a two-day period.

Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeff Meyers said Bartlett was placed on administrative leave, effective Monday. Bartlett had already announced her decision to leave the Division of Children, Youth and Families on April 1.

"The closure of these cases was not undertaken consistent with best practices or in accordance with established DCYF policies and procedures," Meyers said in a statement.

The decision followed a Sunday article by the Concord Monitor, which reported that Bartlett had told her subordinates to forgo usual procedures to close the cases. Over two days in February 2016, DCYF closed 1,520 cases, almost 15 percent of its annual tally of cases.

The Monitor quoted Bartlett as saying workers had determined the children weren’t in immediate danger. The agency hadn’t done a comprehensive evaluation, which would have included interviewing multiple people to assess family needs and referring them to services such as parenting classes.

"The number of reports being assigned to staff exceeded the workforce capacity to do a comprehensive assessment," Bartlett told the Monitor. "We determined that safety was not an issue. Could the family have used some support, or coaching or referral to resources? Potentially."

The newspaper quoted an email from a DCYF field administrator, who said the decision boosted staff morale and revitalized staff energy levels.

Sununu said he is evaluating whether an outside counsel will be used to review the status of the assessments and determine whether they should be reopened.

He said the outside counsel would examine the issue and determine where the system broke down.

In a statement issued on Monday, Meyers said the 1,520 child assessments were undertaken just days after his confirmation as commissioner of Health and Human Services. He said no one ever discussed closing the cases with him; his job entails oversight of DCYF.

Maureen Ryan, the director of the Human Services Division of HHS, was appointed interim DCYF director.

In late January, Bartlett announced her plans to resign as of April 1.

Bartlett has been with the agency for 28-1/2 years, and headed it since 2014.

Last year proved critical for DCYF, in part due to the deaths of two children at the hands of parents under supervision of DCYF. A national consulting group, the Center for the Support of Families, found that most DCYF cases are judged unfounded, even when abuse is acknowledged as fact.

The agency faced lawsuits over its handling of abuse cases, and a joint House-Senate task force has recommended legislation.

In a January interview with the New Hampshire Sunday News, Bartlett portrayed a "perfect storm" of staff turnover, increased reports, increased cases and the opioid crisis.

She also acknowledged implementing "work-arounds" that allowed DCYF to operate within its budget.

"But because our resources preclude us from doing the comprehensive assessments that enable us to really dig into what’s happening with that family, in order for us to ascertain what actions should be taken, you don’t move forward on those," she said.

mhayward@unionleader.com