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DCYF Director Says N.H. More Focused On Keeping Families Together

Department of Human Health and Services

Reports of child abuse and neglect reached a record high in New Hampshire during the last fiscal year.

That's according to data released last week by the Division for Children, Youth and Families, the state's child welfare system.

NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with the DCYF director Joe Ribsam about what this data mean for measuring the agency's progress and how DCYF plans to do better.

(Editor's note: below is a partial transcript from the NHPR interview that's been lightly edited for clarity.)

Do you have the data you need to understand why the number of children leaving the system is outpacing those coming into placement? Do you know exactly what has changed in this past year that wasn't in effect before?

I don't know that the quantitative data tells that story. I think that's something that we gather more through the qualitative data -- through talking to folks, through focus groups, through quality assurance reviews that we do around the state regularly. And I think right now what you're seeing is somewhat of a shift in culture. And when I say that, I'm talking about the reality that this is a system that just a couple of years ago was really seen as having significant challenges and there being some real trust issues around the ability of the system to serve kids and families.

And when that happens, and this isn't unique to New Hampshire, I've come here from another jurisdiction. I worked in New Jersey for about a decade before I came here. And the same thing happened in New Jersey when we began our reform efforts there. The same thing happens in other jurisdictions around the country. When faith in the system gets lost and people get fearful, they start making decisions to remove children more than they maybe should. And they start making decisions to maybe hold on to kids a little longer than they should. And that's because they're afraid of the outcomes there.

And really, the best solution in that place, when you're remembering that every time you remove a child is traumatic, is that instead of taking those children into care, is you really try to work with the family, really try to strengthen that family to keep that child safe at home in the first instance. And I think that's a big part of what we're seeing is the shift in fear and the ability of folks to really work with families and be a little less fearful about the outcomes there.

You're saying the default here should be to try to keep families together and not take the child away from the home.

Yeah, the default should be if it can be done safely. So you're trying to keep a family together. You're trying to strengthen that family and trying to support that family to keep that child safe.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.

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