A lawmaker who chairs the House Child and Family Law Committee said he was “blown away” to find out that the state bills parents who receive help from the state for their children, charging for everything from foster care to expensive incarcerations at the Sununu Youth Services Center.
On Sunday, the New Hampshire Sunday News reported the long-standing practice of billing families. Nearly 4,000 accounts are active, and three parents spoke of receiving bills they had not expected when they agreed to services such as Children in Need of Services (CHINS).
“I was kind of blown away,” said Rep. Pat Long, D-Manchester. “I don’t see a family struggling with a child getting hit with a $30,000, $40,000 bill. That will make it worse.”
The bills are issued by the Parental Reimbursement Unit of the Department of Health and Human Services and wrapped up in the confidentiality of child protectice services and juvenile court.
Long said the the topic came up late last week during a meeting of an advisory committee associated with the Office of Child Advocate.
He said he has asked the Department of Health and Human Services for data regarding costs of care if the child is removed from the home, how many parents challenge bills in court, and how much a judge reduces the bills.
New Hampshire Child Advocate Moira O’Neill said the bills can set parents back financially, which doesn’t benefit a struggling child in the long run. And the bills create a resentful relationship that will discourage people from seeking help in the first place.
“The state has such a terrible relationship in the community,” O’Neill said.
And the expectation of a bill may discourage people from seeking help when it would be most effective.
“When people come to you too late, they wait and the problem is harder to treat and costs more,” he said.
In the Sunday article, state health officials did not defend the practice, other than to say the billing is required by state law and welcome a discussion over whether the practice should continue.
The spokesman for Gov. Chris Sununu did not return an email asking Sununu’s thoughts about the practice.
State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he sponsored a bill to exempt voluntary services through the CHINS program from state laws that require billing. He expects the bill will pass, given its low price tag of $10,000.
He said the prospects of a bill would prevent a lot of parents from accessing services. But he did not comment on billing for mandated services.
Last year, the state eliminated services provided voluntarily to parents who are accused of abusing or neglecting their child.
But billing remains for all mandated services in cases of abuse or neglect, CHINS, and all juvenile justice programs such as incarceration at the Sununu Center.
One parent contacted the Union Leader to explain the situation.
Local police talked the family into signing a CHINS petition and before long their son was in the Sununu Center.
The school district was more than happy to see that because it rids them of an expensive special education student, the parent said.
Their son was at the Sununu Center for 31 months at a cost of nearly $250,000. Their son was placed in other residential centers, including one in Dorchester, Mass., where he tried heroin for the first time.
He came from an intact family and didn’t need to be in the Sununu Center, the parent said. He had special education challenges.
The bill from the Parental Reimbursement Unit was approximately $1,400 a month. The family challenged it in court, and a judge reduced it to $500, which they paid from 2007 to 2013.
At the time the family was earning between $125,00 and $150,000 a year.
“The bill meant that when he turned 18, there was no money to support him and find him services he needed to transition from detention to living on his own. He basically became homeless and roamed the city and the United States for years causing harm everywhere he went,” the parent wrote.
They stopped paying when he turned 21, and the state pursued the family for six months until the parents convinced them they were no longer responsible.