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N.H. House Kills Abuse Records Bill

Concord Monitor
Published: 5/11/2016 11:36:01 PM
Modified: 5/11/2016 11:36:08 PM

Concord — The Republican-led House defeated a bill Wednesday that would require the state’s child protective services agency to keep reports of abuse and neglect on file for longer periods of time.

Opponents said the increase was excessive. But advocates said the change, recommended by Attorney General Joe Foster in the wake of recent toddler deaths, is needed to protect the state’s youngest residents by informing child protective workers about potential patterns of abuse.

“This is not a political issue,” said Rep. Skip Berrien, D-Exeter. “The safety of our children is a paramount concern.”

The House rejected a Child and Family Law Committee recommendation to pass the bill before killing it outright by a vote of 201-148.

“We ought to consider the unintended consequences,” said Republican Rep. Daniel Itse, who spoke against the legislation.

State law requires child protective services regularly purge its records. The Division for Children, Youth and Families must destroy unfounded reports of child abuse or neglect, meaning complaints that can’t be substantiated, after three years. Founded reports of abuse or neglect must be purged after seven years.

The bill would have lengthened those time frames, requiring, for example, that verified reports be kept on file indefinitely and unfounded reports be maintained for 10 years.

DCYF officials supported the change. Turnover at the division reached about 50 percent in the last two years, and reports of abuse and neglect are on the rise. Division head Lorraine Bartlett testified that such records can help child protective workers put complaints in context and make informed decisions about pervasiveness, duration, and consistency of potential abuse and neglect.

DCYF has come under scrutiny at the Statehouse this year following the recent deaths of two toddlers, both of whose mothers have been charged with murder. DCYF had been involved with the families, prompting Gov. Maggie Hassan to commission an independent review of the state agency. The report is expected to be publicly released by the end of this year.

In the meantime, the state Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities has been pushing for legislative reform. The record retention bill was one of its many recommendations.

But it came under fire from some Republicans on Wednesday. In a personal story, Deerfield, N.H., Rep. Jim Spillane said he came under investigation by the DCYF after someone made an anonymous, politically motivated abuse complaint against him.

“This affects people, this affects family, this is not just about the children,” Spillane said. “I have been through it, I am still going through it.”

Republican Sen. David Boutin said Wednesday the House vote is a “disappointment.” The Republican-led Senate, which passed the record retention bill on a voice vote, likely will try to revive the proposal today during its session.

“We heard very clearly from the attorney general and DCYF that this would be a critical piece on tracking patterns,” said Boutin, a Hooksett, N.H., resident. “It’s very important to keep those records.”

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