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N.H. child protection agency in need of reform, report finds

CONCORD, N.H. — The state’s child protection agency too often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed, according to the results of an independent review released Monday.

Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan ordered the assessment of the Division for Children, Youth and Families following two high-profile toddler deaths, though consultants who studied the system didn’t delve into those cases. Instead, the consultants reviewed a random sampling of 232 cases and interviewed or surveyed hundreds of stakeholders.

In presenting the findings, Center for the Support of Families vice president Jerry Milner said the state does a good job when children have been hurt or are in immediate danger. But in many cases, allegations of neglect were deemed unfounded when children clearly were exposed to domestic violence or their parents’ substance abuse if the parents said they wouldn’t do it again or would seek treatment.

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‘‘Even in those situations where there was a very present, real risk of harm, in our opinion, to kids, we still saw the pattern of time after time, ‘unfounded, unfounded, unfounded,’’’ he said. ‘‘We disagree with that approach. We think if the incidents occur, whether intentional or not intentional, if the child has been exposed to an unreasonable amount of risk, the report ought to be founded.’’

The report includes 20 recommendations, but Milner said increasing the number of social workers handling assessments was among the most critical. The report also recommends improved training, revised policies or laws to clarify that allegations should be deemed founded when evidence indicates a child is at risk of future harm, and better collaboration with the medical, education, and law enforcement fields.

Hassan, who is becoming a US senator, and Jeffrey Meyers, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged the report highlights the need for reform at DCYF.

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