NH child advocate: Protecting at-risk children requires more staff, funding

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 11/30/2022 1:52:56 AM
Modified: 11/30/2022 1:50:33 AM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

Citing a 31% increase in incident reports of restraints, seclusion, and other mistreatment of children, the state’s child advocate told state officials Monday that she needs more staff and money to ensure the state is providing at-risk youth safe, dignified, and effective treatment.

Child Advocate Cassandra Sanchez requested to expand her staff of eight, one of whom works part time, to 11 full-time positions and increase her $824,274 annual budget to $1.2 million in fiscal year 2024 and $1.02 million the following year. The 2024 increase includes a one-time $200,000 expense to enhance a case management and data collection system Sanchez said is critical to tracking and analyzing the care the state provides for children.

Sanchez was among many agency heads to make their budget requests to Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget director and Department of Administrative Services Charlie Arlinghaus Monday. Their requests will guide Sununu’s next biennial budget.

The Office of the Child Advocate, an independent watchdog established in 2019 to reform the state’s child welfare program, has a considerable mandate: to provide independent oversight of the care and services the state provides to at-risk youth in state-run, private, and other public organizations. That work includes investigating hundreds of complaints annually; advising the governor, state officials, and the public on how to improve care to children; and reviewing facilities where children may be placed. Among the office’s responsibilities is tracking and responding to incidents where a child is restrained or placed in seclusion.

Work demands are increasing, Sanchez said.

Between Oct. 1, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022, the office reviewed 2,508 incident reports from the Department of Health and Human Services involving youth. The office also responded to and monitored 318 citizen complaints and reviewed 120 critical incident reports, which include reports of child deaths and injuries and missing children. The office also completed approximately 50 summaries of child and parent deaths, missing children, near-death incidents, and domestic violence.

The 31% increase in DHHS incident reports is likely an undercount, Sanchez said. The department is not yet reporting incidents involving all children placed out of state or incidents involving children who were placed by their schools.”

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