News Article Details

Bills to bolster DCYF, mental health services, get key committee backing

New Hampshire Union Leader - 4/26/2018

April 26--Bills to bolster DCYF, mental health services, get key committee backing

By DAVE SOLOMON

State House Bureau

April 25. 2018 8:02PM

-- Two bills designed to address deficiencies in the state's child protection and mental health services will go to the full House with the unanimous support of the powerful House Finance Committee.

The 26-member committee voted on Wednesday to recommend passage of SB 590 and SB 592.

SB 592 addresses some of the issues raised in an outside evaluation of the state's child protective services conducted after two children whose cases were under DCYF review died of child abuse in 2014 and 2016.

"This bill moves us a long way into trying to solve some of the problems we've had with our child welfare agency," said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner of Concord, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. "Two years ago there was a review of our agency and we had much work to do."

One of the key findings by the Center for the Support of Families was that New Hampshire social workers were carrying too many child abuse cases.

"Our caseloads were sometimes as high as 40 or 50 and national standards suggest 12 per worker," Wallner said. "This doesn't get us to 12, but it moves us in that direction."

A number of other initiatives are included in the bill, such as voluntary services for families at risk, but not yet involved in a DCYF court action; home visiting services; and child care services.

SB 592, dealing primarily with DCYF, authorizes:

* $1.5 million for voluntary services to families at risk.

* $1.3 million for 17 new child protection social workers; two supervisors and two executive secretary positions in DCYF.

* $718,000 for eight new child protective social workers responsible for recruiting and licensing new foster homes to deal with a shortage of foster care for abused children; and two licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

* $500,000 for increases in foster care rates; $250,000 for home visiting services; $250,000 for child care services to eligible recipients; $500,000 for parental assistance programs; and $190,000 for two new staff attorneys at DCYF.

"The voluntary services are important because it is the last step before people get involved in enforcement action with DCYF. It gets them into a program, where they can get the help and skills they need," said Finance Committee member Frank Byron, R-Litchfield.

SB 590 focuses on mental health services, specifically:

* $5.4 million to reduce the waiting list for services to developmentally disabled adults.

* $3.4 million for DHHS to establish a behavioral health crisis center at a key location in the state; or to establish a mobile crisis team with associated housing, to ease the boarding of mental health patients in hospital emergency rooms.

* $500,000 for contracts with housing programs that serve individuals with serious mental illness.

* $410,000 in additional funding for a student loan repayment program to help recruit mental health and medical professionals. Participants in the program have to agree to work in the state for at least three years.

The money in the two bills represents a combination of state and federal funds, reallocation of existing appropriations and some new appropriations.

Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover, said the new funding combined with changes in management at DCYF should begin to yield the desired results.

"The agency is under new administration, and I feel personally confident that we are on the right track," she said.

dsolomon@unionleader.com

Courts Public Safety Health Politics State Government

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