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DHHS Statement on the Office of the Child Advocate’s Child Fatalities Report
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Issued by Division for Children, Youth, and Families
Publish Date:
October 30, 2019

Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) issued the following statement on the release of the System Learning Review Summary Report issued by the Office of the Child Advocate:

"Every child death is a tragedy and deserves our attention so we as a State can learn how to prevent this outcome in the future. As a learning organization, we appreciate the review of past traumatic events and recommendations to improve the child well-being and family strengthening system and prevent these tragedies from occurring whenever possible.

"As acknowledged by the OCA, most of the cases reviewed in the report were the result of accident or natural causes. DCYF, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, changed policy in February 2018 to screen in all child fatalities, whether or not a family was previously or currently involved with DCYF. As a result of this policy change, these cases are now considered DCYF cases even if the family was not involved with DCYF prior to the fatality.

"As the OCA report states, and as we have seen in the State and nationally, tragic events such as child fatalities ‘emerge from a complex social system comprised of influences from relationships, roles, and interactions within environments, communities, cultures, health services, public agencies and families.’ Such events also create secondary trauma for DCYF staff, law enforcement, CASAs, medical personal, court staff, attorneys, and all of people who work with vulnerable children. Safety science is the lens through which to review tragedies, and DCYF and DHHS have embraced safety science since 2017. This has included establishing a Safety Specialist positon to focus on issues of staff physical and psychological safety; using the Safe Signal app to remain connected to staff in the field; implementing a security flagging feature within our data base to quickly alert staff of potential threats; and creating a peer-support program. We are now expanding on these efforts through the biennium by revamping our internal critical incident review process, hiring a clinician to support staff in their work and mitigate their exposure to secondary trauma, and implementing a huddling process similar to that described in the report.

"We appreciate the OCA’s acknowledgment of several long-standing issues that are the focus of strategic initiatives at DCYF already completed, underway or planned. Due to a rapid acceleration in the Department’s hiring process, DCYF has filled 21 of 27 CPSW positions authorized by SB6, and has filled 38 total CPSW positions since July 1, 2019. In September 2019, the average timeframe from vacancy to hiring, which historically took well over 100 days, is down to 40 days as a result of streamlined processes implemented in June 2019.

"DCYF is an important stakeholder in the broader child welfare system. As the OCA acknowledges in her the opening paragraphs of her report, child safety is a collective responsibility. While the OCA drew broad conclusions after speaking to about a dozen DCYF staff, representing a small sample of the broader workforce, we encourage the OCA to consider broadening its work to include more voices from within DCYF and from outside the agency. We look forward to the OCA fine-tuning its process for gathering and reporting information to ensure clarity and accuracy of information and data around staffing levels, the roles and responsibilities of DCYF with respect to other participants in the child welfare system, and acknowledgment of DCYF’s ongoing strategic efforts that address the OCA’s recommendations."

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New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
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