- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire’s child protection agency wants to hire an outside firm to review the rapid closing of 1,500 child abuse and neglect investigations during a two-day period last year.

Between Feb. 22-23, 2016, workers at the Division for Children, Youth and Families closed out what amounted to nearly 15 percent of the reports it gets in a typical year. After the Concord Monitor reported in March that many of the cases were closed without full assessments after going untouched for months, Gov. Chris Sununu put the agency’s director on leave and said the state would consider hiring outside counsel to review where the system broke down and whether any of the investigations need to be re-opened.

On Wednesday, the Executive Council plans to vote on an $82,000, seven-month contract with Florida-based Eckerd Kids, a Florida-based nonprofit agency that according to its website helps public and private organizations by sharing best practices and advocating for system reform. Jake Leon, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, said Eckerd Kids has performed similar reviews and other states.

Eckerd Kids has been contracted to review a subset of the 1,500 closed assessments to ensure that children involved in those cases were properly assessed for harm,” he said. “Depending on the review findings, the Department will determine whether review of additional cases is warranted.”

According to the contract, Eckerd will review related laws, policies and procedures in New Hampshire to develop a “Safety Analysis Tool” that will be applied to a sample of 100 of the closed investigations. The organization will make recommendations about which investigations require additional documentation or should be re-opened, and a final report summarizing all 100 reviewed cases will be submitted by Dec. 31. The report also will include information on the division’s strengths, areas for improvement and recommended follow-up actions.

The division has been under scrutiny since two toddlers under its supervision were killed in 2014 and 2015. The deaths spurred an independent review of the agency, which concluded that it often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed. In a report released in December, auditors also described a seriously overloaded DCYF workforce, a restrictive child protection law that sets a high bar for determining neglect and a lack of services available to families.

Lawmakers are close to passing several reform measures in response, including creating an office of the child advocate and making the head of DCYF an associate health commissioner. The Executive Council last month confirmed Christine Tappan to replace Lorraine Bartlett as “senior division director” but she will transition into the new associate commissioner role if that change is enacted. Bartlett, who was placed on leave in mid-March, retired at the end of that month.

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