N.H. DCYF’S Accountability Sorely Lacking

Every day most of us try to hold ourselves or our direct wards whether they be family or peers accountable for our actions. We are told “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” but we also know the extension of any pardon must follow the admission of one’s mistake. Above all other institutions that function in our society, entities that make up our government at every level, should hold themselves to the highest standards of accountability.

In the case of the N.H. Division of Children, Youth and Families, recent events have made it clear accountability is a foreign concept.

DCYF is a division of the state Department of Health and Human Services, which falls under the executive branch of state government. Over the past few years numerous serious issues surrounding DCYF have been exposed, calling into question whether anyone even bothered to read DCYF’s mission statement: “We are dedicated to assisting families in the protection, development, permanency, and well-being of their children and the communities in which they live.” Not only has the DCYF failed its own mission, it has become abundantly clear there was a lack of leadership at every level of our state government regarding DCYF.

Lorraine Bartlett, current director of DCYF, recently announced her retirement. Upon that announcement, DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers praised Bartlett’s years of public service, stating “Lorraine has worked tirelessly to ensure a high-quality child protection system for the state.” Today, Meyers has a much different opinion of Bartlett.

Meyers and Gov. Chris Sununu recently announced Bartlett was placed on administrative leave after it was discovered 1,520 open child assessments were inexplicably closed over a two-day period in February 2016. Meyers stated, “The closure of these cases was not undertaken consistent with best practices or in accordance with established DCYF policies and procedures.”

“Not undertaken consistent with best practices” indeed.

What procedure did DCYF follow to ensure those 1,500 children were not in danger before DCYF arbitrarily stamped these cases “closed”? Please tell me DCYF didn’t just roll the dice with the lives of these children in the balance. Please tell me someone at DCYF was “dedicated” and concerned about the “well-being” of our children.

The revelation of the premature closing of the child assessments came after the release of a long overdue “independent review” of the DCYF released in December 2016. The review was performed by the Center for the Support of Families (CSF), a group selected personally by former Gov. Maggie Hassan. Surprisingly, CSF did not uncover the 1,500 closed assessments. Nor did an employee at DCYF report the impropriety. The closed cases were only discovered when the Concord Monitor made a records request.

Discovery of the improperly closed records leads to many questions. What exactly was the CSF supposed to be reviewing? How did CSF miss the mishandling of these assessments? What kind of culture must have existed that apparently no one at DCYF felt compelled to speak out about the closing of these crucial assessments?

New Hampshire once again is facing a crisis of epic proportions due in large part to the failed leadership and incompetence of former Gov. Hassan.

When Hassan acted independently in the hiring of CSF, she stated CSF would look to identify “systemic” problems at DCYF. Hassan also promised CSF would review the deaths of 21-month-old Sadie Willott in 2015 and the beating death of 3-month old Brielle Gage in 2014. Both Willott and Gage were cases DCYF were supposed to be handling. That is of course until they were murdered by their mothers. The deaths of Gage and Willott were the catalyst for the CSF review. However, from the onset, Hassan wasn’t even clear on what CSF would be doing.

When Bartlett publicly stated CSF would not be considering the deaths of Willott and Gage, Hassan publicly contradicted Bartlett’s statement, stating CSF would review their deaths. However, a few days later Hassan reversed herself, acknowledging Bartlett was right that Willott and Gage deaths would not be part of the review. Is it any wonder no one is really sure what is going on at DCYF? Hassan certainly did not have a clue.

There are many problems regarding DCYF. Some would like to believe all we need is more people and more money. How many people and how much money would have been necessary to stop the improper closing of more than 1,500 assessments? How many people and how much more money could we have given CSF to find all the “systemic” problems at DCYF? It required just one DCYF employee to call attention to the closed cases. A better than casual review by CSF would have revealed a massive amount of child assessments were closed in a very short time.

Government is made up of layers upon layers of unfeeling bureaucracies that breed a culture of finger pointing, not accountability. Some 1,500 child assessments were improperly closed and two children are dead. Then Gov. Hassan oversaw the CSF investigation, an investigation that missed the possible criminal closings of 1,500 child assessments. Gov. Hassan as chief executive was supposed to be responsible for ensuring DCYF was living up to its mission. Clearly, DCYF was not under Hassan’s watch. Accountability requires atonement, and in the absence of individual amends, there must be leadership. Under Hassan, we got neither accountability nor leadership.

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