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DCYF to spend $153k to clear overdue reviews

State House Bureau

April 03. 2017 7:14PM

CONCORD — New Hampshire’s child protective service will spend an estimated $153,000, mostly on overtime for social workers, to clear a backlog of 2,800 overdue reviews of child abuse allegations, according to Maureen Ryan, interim director of the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

Ryan appeared Monday before the Special Joint House and Senate Committee on DCYF to update lawmakers on efforts to improve child protection practices at the beleaguered agency.

One of the key objectives, she said, is to erase the backlog of overdue assessments, which are defined as complaints that have not been closed or moved to the next level within 60 days of being filed.

Ryan told the committee that 75 social workers and 25 supervisors have been authorized for up to four hours of overtime per week, for 10 weeks, to clear up the backlog using “all regular guidelines and practices.”

The reference to “regular guidelines and practices” was particularly relevant, since the department recently came under fire for quickly resolving 1,500 cases in February of last year without following regular guidelines and practices.

DCYF director Lorraine Bartlett was placed on administrative leave by Gov. Chris Sununu in mid-March, two weeks before her scheduled retirement in April. Ryan was named interim director at the time.

Also presenting on Monday was commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services Jeffrey Meyers, a member of the special committee.

Meyers said erasing the backlog while keeping up with new incoming reports will be challenging.

“We’ve got a plan and we are going to see if it’s effective in addressing the backlog,” he said. “But I want to be sure we can still keep up with our new assessments, so we’re going to authorize overtime. We’ve never had an overtime line in our budget.”

The department will monitor the effort closely, and resort to additional measures if necessary, according to Meyers.

“If we get into it for a couple of weeks and see that it is not effective, I will go to the governor and recommend we retain additional outside help in order to review those open assessments,” he said.

Ryan outlined several other initiatives to improve outcomes at DCYF, including:

• Enhanced assessments for children born to drug-using parents: This policy, finalized in March, requires face-to-face visits with the family at the hospital prior to discharge and three home visits before the case is closed.

• After-hours hotline: An outside vendor hired to staff a child abuse hotline in the evening and on weekends, Wediko Children’s Services, began service on Feb. 14. In the first month, Wediko employees screened 367 calls, almost 20 percent of the total volume of calls screened and entered into the DCYF computer system.

• After-hours on-call coverage: DCYF launched after-hours, on-call shifts for social workers and supervisors to respond to after-hours reports of abuse on Feb. 27. An on-call calendar has been created and staff has been signing up. Approximately 13 after-hours calls since Feb. 27 have required an in-person response, and one resulted in the removal of a child.

• Additional staffing: The department is in the process of recruiting 17 additional social workers and five new assistant supervisors approved in November of 2016 by the governor and Executive Council, but so far has only hired seven social workers and four assistant supervisors. “It has been slower than we’d hoped, but it is moving forward,” said Ryan. “We’ve done a number of things to enhance the effort.”

• Technology and training: All DCYF field staff are being issued laptops with access to the department servers and iPhones. Requests have gone out to outside agencies to submit proposals for training programs.

• Well-being of staff: In the hope of reducing a turnover rate as high as 30 percent, the department has created a plan for peer support at all levels within the agency in a policy released on Feb. 10.

“We have staff going into homes where there are very difficult situations happening,” said Ryan. “They are experiencing trauma on a daily basis, and we need to be sure we are supporting them. That could be part of the reason there is so much turnover on our staff and so much medical leave, due to the stress and trauma of the job.”

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