CONCORD — State health officials say funding approved in June to increase staffing at the Division for Children, Youth and Families has resulted in three hires, with an additional 16 hires pending.

Back in June, Gov. Chris Sununu and Senate President Donna Soucy signed off on Senate Bill 6, a measure to dramatically increase the staffing at the agency, adding funding for 77 new positions over two years, at a cost of about $8.5 million.

Under the terms of SB 6, health officials are charged with recruiting caseworkers and managers to work for DCYF: 57 child protective service workers (CPSW) and 20 CPSW supervisors in total. Funding for 27 CPSW and 9 CPSW supervisor positions became available as of July 1, with funding for the remaining positions to become available beginning July 1, 2020.

Advocates say the increase in positions will go a long way to reducing the workload for protective workers, who as of this past March were performing, on average, 46 assessments per worker — well above the nationally recommended average of 15.

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers sent House Speaker Steve Shurtleff and Soucy an update regarding recruitment efforts for new CPSWs and supervisor positions funded by SB 6, showing that two CPSW positions and one supervisor position have been filled so far.

“We have no greater obligation than the safety of our children, and that is why we are moving quickly to fill the new positions created by Senate Bill 6,” said Sununu in a statement. “While there is certainly more work to do, the progress that the department has made in a relatively short time is encouraging. I have made clear to the department that filling all available positions must be a top priority in the coming months. I am confident that Commissioner Meyers and his team will deliver.”

According to Meyers, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) held a job fest June 13; 65 certified CPSW applicants had been invited, 27 participated and 15 were selected for second interviews, Meyers said. From that talent pool, three were hired, three declined offers of employment and three are still under consideration.

On Aug. 2, the DHHS Manchester District Office held a location-specific job fest, which drew eight participants.

“Pending completion of administrative processing, the department anticipates offering four of the participants positions,” Meyers wrote in his update.

DHHS held a second statewide job fest Aug. 13; 55 certified CPSW applicants were invited, and 17 participated, said Meyers. Of those, DHHS has recommended 12 be considered for positions, Meyers said. The next job fest is scheduled for Sept. 10.

According to Meyers, his department has increased its recruitment outreach, has created a new CPSW recruitment poster and is using departmental social media and college job placement boards to target potential candidates.

“DHHS is committed to filling positions created by the legislature with qualified candidates as quickly and efficiently as possible, as well as to fill all positions that become vacant due to promotions, resignations, or retirements,” Meyers wrote.

Sununu also assured Democratic legislative leaders that voluntary services given to families in a crisis were offered to 238 people in 46 open DCYF cases from July 1 through Aug. 23 at a cost of $1.1 million in total dollars. Some lawmakers had questioned whether voluntary services could be covered by the 90-day, continuing resolution Sununu signed to keep state government operating after he vetoed the two-year state budget in June.

“As we continue with budget negotiations, it is important for the public to receive clear and accurate information regarding the provision of state services,” said Sununu in a statement. “This report assures families that the department has provided and will continue to provide voluntary services under the continuing resolution. I am confident that our efforts to ensure that all children in New Hampshire are free of abuse and neglect will continue unimpeded. The people of this state deserve nothing less.”

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com