CONCORD — More children exited the New Hampshire child-placement system than were removed from families and placed into situations such as foster care or care by a relative, according to data released last week by the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).
That first-ever data book of DCYF covers the 12-month period that ended June 30. Most of the categories provide data for the past five years.
The data also show more children leaving the system — about 388 — than entering the system — little more than 350 — from January to June 2019. That is the first time since 2015 that more kids were leaving the child-placement system than going into it, according to DCYF.
The report gives no reason for the increase or even under what circumstances children exit the system.
“This trend has remained consistent for the past six months. But there is more work to be done,” wrote Joseph Ribsam, DCYF director, in an introductory message to the data book. He went on to say that DCYF has secured more funding for additional child protective workers, supervisors, case technicians and nursing staff.
The agency also reported that its total calls — which includes new cases and additional information for existing cases — was nearly 31,000 for the time period, about 1,500 more than the previous 12 months.
The Office of the Child Advocate — a state watchdog agency over the DCYF — said its initial view of the data is promising, but DCYF still has an enormous task before it and not enough resources.
That includes a workload of 40 to 44 cases per social worker, which far exceeds the national standard of 12 to 15, said Moira O’Neill, director of the Office of the Child Advocate.
“We have seen the impact of that overload in our System Learning Reviews — assessments with only minimum collateral contacts, referrals not followed up, incomplete documentation,” O’Neill said.
In his introduction, Ribsam said DCYF hopes to transform the state child welfare system by simplifying structures, embracing a culture of safety, and shifting focus from reaction to prevention.
“Data will serve as a tool to measure our progress, detect trends, drive long-term policy, and determine whether DCYF funding is effectively invested,” he wrote.
New cases for the period totaled 12,361, up by 220 from the previous period. Those new cases involved 30,100 children. The number of cases with Level 1 assessments — the most serious, which require a response within 24 hours — was 2,642, up 333 from 2018.
3,086 children were part of “Family Service Cases,” a definition that includes abuse and neglect cases but also post-adoption, guardianship and voluntary services. Of those children, 58% were involved in an out-of-home placement and 42% remained in the home. In the 2018 reporting year, out-of-home placement and in-home services were 63% and 37%, respectively.
261 children were adopted in 2019, up from 163 the year before and 103 in 2017.
The total number of children involved in a juvenile justice case at any time during the year — either as delinquent, in diversion or Children in Need of Supervision — fell to 11,317, compared to 12,061 the year before.
The average population at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester was 27 in 2019, down from 45 the previous year and 64 in 2017.
The number of children born exposed to drugs totaled 466 in calendar year 2018, down from 508 in 2017 and 467 in 2016.
Of the 750 families who entered the voluntary Comprehensive Family Support Services program in the 2018 period, 86% reported being low income, 51% were led by a single parent, 54% reported a mental health issue, 54% a chronic health issue and 16% drug or alcohol issues.
In a statement, Gov. Chris Sununu highlighted the children leaving the system.
“The fact that more kids are leaving the system than entering is a promising sign of a healthy system,” Sununu said.
“There is more to do, but today’s report demonstrates that we are making real, positive progress.”
Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey A. Meyers said state officials will use the data to drive planning and decision-making.