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Child Advocate: N.H. DCYF Inconsistent When Responding To Babies Born Drug-Exposed

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Almost 500 infants born in New Hampshire between July 2018 and September 2019 had signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome. That's according to a new report from the State Child Advocate which looks at how well the state is dealing with the problem.

The report identifies systemic problems in how the Division for Children Youth and Families currently responds when a baby is born exposed to drugs.

It cites poor communication between DCYF and hospital staff and inconsistent practices across DCYF caseworkers among other problems.

The report also highlights the efforts of some DCYF district offices which it says provide a model for the rest of the system.

DCYF's southern district office has created a specialized position for a staff member to focus exclusively on infants born substance-exposed.

“She knows, and they all know, what information needs to be shared and how to make sure you've got things set so that families can get hooked up with services,” said Child Advocate Moira O'Neill.

The report recommends that all DCYF district offices establish the same position.

O'Neill said one challenge facing the Division for Children Youth and Families is gaining the trust and cooperation of families whose children were born substance-exposed.

“One of the fears that many mothers have is that if anyone knows that their child's been exposed, that DCYF is going to take their child. And that's not true.”

The report says DCYF needs a more robust system to make sure children born substance-exposed get the care they need.

“These kids need to have early support services established right away,” said O’Neill.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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