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Points of progress, grim statistics shape NH child advocate’s annual report

Dan Tuohy
On any given day, an average of 16 children are waiting in emergency rooms for a hospital bed in Hampstead Hospital, the only inpatient hospital in the state for children.

This story was originally produced by the New Hampshire Bulletin, an independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other outlets to republish its reporting.

In its recently released 2022 annual report, the Office of the Child Advocate, charged with monitoring the state’s care for at-risk children and youth, begins with the positives.

Staff helped a young adult who had aged out of care get money for college and COVID-19 assistance. They succeeded in getting a child who had been placed out of state for care brought back to New Hampshire. When another child lost a parent, staff advocated successfully to have the child placed with a relative rather than remain in a residential facility. Child Advocate Cassandra Sanchez and the deputy advocate traveled to a facility in Arkansas to meet with New Hampshire children who had been placed there.

The list goes on. But it’s followed by some grim statistics.

Twenty-nine children under age 17 died between October 2021 and November 2022, three from overdoses, two in a homicide, and one who died by suicide. Eighteen were younger than 1, most of them infants where unsafe sleeping conditions or sudden infant death syndrome is suspected, the report said.

Children are waiting four weeks to eight months to see a therapist. On any given day, an average of 16 children are waiting in emergency rooms for a hospital bed in Hampstead Hospital, the only inpatient hospital in the state for children.

“Although the hospital is now state run, the (Office of the Child Advocate) continues to observe lengthy wait times for children and rising needs,” the report said. “Hospital emergency rooms are being utilized to house children throughout the wait, providing no therapeutic supports in the interim. For those fortunate enough to receive psychiatric care, they often return to the community with minimal supports.”

This list goes on, too.

The number of parent and guardian deaths in cases involving the Division for Children, Youth, and Families has more than doubled from 2021 to 2022, from 18 to 40, the report said. The leading causes of death as reported by DCYF are overdose, natural causes, suicide, and homicide, the report said.

More than a thousand children and youth require placement outside their home because of an imminent safety concern, the report said. In October 2021, 1,133 children and youth were placed with other family members, in a foster home, or at group and residential facilities. In September 2022, the number was slightly higher, 1,169.

“Both nationally and here in New Hampshire we are seeing youth remaining in care far past the time necessary to address mental or behavioral health needs, and/or trauma responses due to exposure to substance use, mental illness, domestic violence, or abuse and neglect,” the report said. It noted that studies have found that compared to children placed with families, children in institutions and group facilities are less likely to graduate from high school and more than twice as likely to be arrested.

Created four years ago, the Office of the Child Advocate is charged with being the child’s ally in these situations. That includes investigating complaints about care provided by the state or agencies contracted by the state; visiting placement sites and monitoring the care provided; and advocating for children’s needs in the Legislature.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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