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Legislature to examine NH foster care issues

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

October 15. 2017 8:25PM
MARIELLEN MacKAY 



CONCORD — A legislative committee has been appointed to examine foster care issues in New Hampshire, especially in the context of the state’s prolonged addiction crisis and problems within the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

State Rep. Mariellen MacKay, R-Nashua, said the group will include foster parents and will “look at the foster care system through the lens of the foster parents themselves, utilizing the best interest of the child as the defining factor.”

The committee will also attempt to reconcile competing versions of a bill of rights for foster parents — one put forth by the New Hampshire Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (NHFAPA) and one by state Rep. Sean Morrison, R-Epping, who is also a foster parent.

MacKay said the need to address issues affecting the recruitment and retention of foster families and their relationship with DCYF is particularly critical at a time when the need for foster homes far outstrips the supply, and many new recruits don’t last long.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, from January 2016 through December 2016, there were 1,898 youths needing some type of placement, with only 1,666 unduplicated licensed or permitted beds in 737 foster homes at any point in time.

MacKay pointed out that at least three separate legislatively appointed committees or commissions are examining various aspects of DCYF operations, but none with a focus on foster care.

“You cannot review DCYF without reviewing foster care,” she said. “It is one of the backbones of that system. Without a good, strong foster care system, you have no safe haven for a child.”

MacKay, who has a master’s degree in social services, is a past president of the foster parent’s association, and says there was a time not long ago when foster parents stayed as part of the system for 20 to 30 years.

“You don’t see that today, and so you need to look at the system and figure out what’s working and what’s not working, and how do we fix it,” she said.

MacKay got the unanimous support of the Health and Human Services Oversight Committee on Friday to convene a Foster Care Subcommittee and file a report recommending legislation, including a foster parents bill of rights.

“We have a tentative date of Oct. 25 for our first meeting, and were going to get up and running rapidly,” she said.

In addition to MacKay, committee members include representatives James MacKay, D-Concord; Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson; Lynne Ober, R-Hudson; and Sean Morrison, R-Epping; along with senators Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro and Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

NHFAPA Vice President Stephanie Sullivan and foster parent Deb Bradley are also on the committee.

Morrison has already filed a bill to enshrine in law a foster family bill of rights that is considerably different from what the NHFAPA is proposing.

“Where that goes is anyone’s guess right now,” said MacKay. “Hopefully we will combine efforts.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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