- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The Executive Council on Wednesday approved a contract with a Florida-based organization to review 100 of the 1,500 child abuse and neglect investigations that were rapidly closed in New Hampshire last year.

The $82,000 contract won unanimous approval Wednesday, though some councilors said they were concerned both about the review’s limited scope and a Concord Monitor article describing the deaths of five children under the care of Eckerd Kids in Florida.

“I don’t like depending on the Monitor to learn about contractors,” said Councilor Andru Volinsky.

A spokeswoman for the organization said three of the deaths resulted from unsafe sleep practices, one was accidental and the fifth remains under investigation. New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said he didn’t know about the incidents before Tuesday, but has confidence in the agency. When Councilor David Wheeler asked why the contract wasn’t put out to bid, Meyers said he wanted the review to happen as soon as possible.

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 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.

Councilor Chris Pappas said he was concerned that only 100 of the 1,500 cases would be reviewed.

“I would hate to see this be the end of it,” he said. “It was very troubling what happened.”

Meyers said as reports come into the division, they are assigned different levels of risk. The review will include all of those reports that were assigned the highest level of risk.

“This was a good place to start,” Meyers said. “If there’s any indication that there’s any issue at all here, we will expand the number of assessments that are looked at.”

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.

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