DHHS Employee Files Whistleblower Lawsuit Over Child Protection Services

Feb 13, 2020

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

An employee of the state Department of Health and Human Services, Anna Carrigan, has filed a lawsuit alleging the state is failing its legal responsibilities to protect children from abuse and neglect in New Hampshire. The lawsuit also alleges Carrigan was retaliated against by supervisors at DHHS for speaking publicly on the issue.

“[Carrigan] been subject to inconsistent and arbitrary directives and other conduct that have suppressed and chilled her ability to speak to the public and the press about DHHS’s dysfunction,” the complaint reads.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General's office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Concord attorney Michael Lewis, a vocal critic of the Division for Children, Youth, and Families is representing Carrigan.

“There is a legal mandate that requires the state to respond and assess cases within 60 days,” said Lewis. “The state is not doing that and that is illegal.”

DCYF has struggled for years with high caseload volumes, inadequate staffing, and other issues identified in official reviews and by local journalists.

“I expect we’ll be calling the Office of Child Advocate as a witness. I expect we’re going to try to call people from the federal government as witnesses,” said Lewis.

Carrigan began her public advocacy last year, after a family member became involved in the state’s child protection system. She granted interviews to local news outlets and launched The New Road Project, a non-profit advocacy group. Carrigan helped coordinate a public demonstration at the state house last July on child protection issues. She also testified in opposition to the appointment of Lori Shibinette as DHHS commissioner in January.

Carrigan’s case seeks a court injunction that would force reforms to the state's child protection system. Its legal argument rests largely on a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018 that gives taxpayers standing to bring lawsuits if they believe the state is spending public money illegally.

“The people of New Hampshire in November 2018, by overwhelming margins, gave taxpayers standing to go directly to courts to challenge what has been previously considered a core legislative function: decisions regarding taxing and spending,” said Lewis.