The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Remaking DCYF
How structural changes might help fix child services

By Ryan Lessard

 A bill in the Senate would make the head of the Division of Children, Youth and Families a governor’s appointee and establish an office of the child advocate and an oversight commission. 

Republican Sen. Sharon Carson, the bill’s prime sponsor, said the move will improve leadership and transparency and possibly give the division head the ear of the legislature when it comes to funding needs.
The problem
An independent report released in December laid out the issues plaguing DCYF (which runs the state’s child protective services, foster care and juvenile delinquency programs), including chronic understaffing, process issues and statutory challenges.
“It really began with the death of Brielle Gage and the fact that there were so many unanswered questions about what happened to this little girl,” Carson said of the Nashua 3-year-old beaten to death in 2014. 
Her mother was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 45 years to life for the crime in late 2016.
Gage’s and other deaths of young children led to a number of investigations into DCYF as well as a legislative commission tasked with making sure the laws were set up to prevent more child abuse fatalities.
Most of the legislation that has come out of that commission has been things like records retention rules. Early talks about the need for 24/7 child protective coverage took place in that commission. 
Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jake Leon said the division implemented 24/7 coverage earlier this year. 
DCYF is a division of DHHS and its administration reports to the health commissioner.
Even the office of the Child Advocate came from the commission’s work to create an independent ombudsman for DYCF. 
But Carson set out last fall to do something radical when she submitted this bill, even before the December report came out.
She said after talking with the then DCYF director Lorraine Bartlett and others, Carson concluded that DCYF needed to be taken out of the departmental behemoth that is DHHS and made into its own independent agency.
“Part of the problem is it’s attached to a very, very large agency, which is the Department of Health and Human Services,” Carons said. “So you’ve got this smaller division over here and they’re kind of pushed off to the side because all the attention is on the bigger part of the agency. And I think that was a big, big part of the problem.”
According to Carson, every budgetary need in DCYF was being funnelled up the chain of command at DHHS, the state’s largest agency, and by the time DHHS submitted its budget requests to the legislature, many of those needs might not have had a full hearing.
“While they didn’t have all these employees [DCYF needed], they didn’t come to the legislature to tell us that they were having a problem. We didn’t know, and if we don’t know we can’t address the problem,” Carson said.
DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers didn’t agree with the plan to break off DCYF from the health department, and further review of the plan showed it was going to be an expensive proposition.
Ultimately, with the help of Sen. Jeb Bradley and others in the health committee, Carson’s bill was amended. 
Instead of becoming a new department, DCYF would be headed by a new position titled “associate commissioner,” which would be appointed by the governor. 
The bill was sent to the Senate Finance Committee, which approved and tabled it to be included in the state budget on March 23. 
In an email from Leon, Meyers expressed his support of the amended bill.

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