DHHS Worker Becomes Advocate For DCYF Reform

May 3, 2019

Credit Department of Human Health and Services

The state Division of Children, Youth and Families, New Hampshire's child welfare system, has been a major focus for lawmakers during this legislative session.

But some reform advocates say new legislation is not enough to address DCYF's ongoing issues.

Anna Carrigan is the co-founder of The New Road Project, a recently launched nonprofit that aims to help families that are struggling under the current system.

Carrigan has a master’s in social work, and actually works for the state agency that oversees DCYF – though in another division. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley sat down with her to chat about her advocacy work.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Tell me a little bit about how you first got involved with the DCYF system?

Sure. Well originally, as a social worker of course, I have familiarity with them. And then personally I have a relative who has been involved with the system for the past couple of years. It's been a trying experience for my family. And when it seemed like things were not progressing in a way where safety was happening, I decided to help them investigate a little about what was going on. And as I read, not just my relatives case records, but then dug into the audits that have come out the last couple of years, and the legislation and holes in, not just DCYF's part of the child protection system, but also the medical aspect of the child protection system and law enforcement side, to see I guess the gravity of how bad off we are as a state right now, I could not have that knowledge and not do something about it.

You've decided to start this nonprofit. Your nonprofit is called the New Road Project. I'm wondering what you hope to accomplish with that and why now. There's a spotlight right now on DCYF. There has been for the last two or three years. The legislature is laser focused on doing something about this. There has been some more money appropriated. They're trying to hire more people. They know there's a very high churn rate. We've got a Child Advocate in the state now, which we didn't have before. Why start the nonprofit now?

Yes, we have the Office of the Child Advocate. She has no ability to make DCYF do anything. She can only make recommendations. And I think that's a misperception in the public, and that to me it almost seems like placating the public that oh yes, there is oversight. But to me, oversight means then being able to have the authority to say that this piece needs to change and she can't do that. And the same is true of the DHHS ombudsman. So in effect, people are able to look at what's happening at DCYF. No one can make DCYF do anything different.

But her recommendations haven't taken up by the legislature. Things have been in progress. Do you do you feel like they're not progressing fast enough?

I don't honestly. I think that these reforms, in terms of increasing the amount of caseworkers, it's not fast enough. Because what I predict is going to happen is that they'll bring these new people on, which they're having trouble recruiting because of the reputation of the agency, and that they're going to burn out faster than they can build up the capacity to get case loads down to a manageable ratio.

So what do you plan to accomplish with the nonprofit?

My nonprofit is not about decreasing childhood abuse and neglect directly. I think there's already many organizations that do that in the state, and that's you know obviously certainly DCYF's job. There seems to be a gap in the three things I'm hoping to do with my organization, which is first of all, being able to provide education for families and for professionals that need to make reports and interact with the system about what you can do if things aren't going right and who you can reach out to.

The second is doing activism around what is going on in the system and the flaws that are there. Because I think people have DCYF fatigue honestly right now in terms of we all know that there's problems, but it's been in the paper almost so much that you know you read it, and it's like okay well DCYF is having a problem again. What's new? When there's obviously I think even deeper things that we haven't really brought to the forefront about the issues that exist.

And the third piece, which I think is just as important, is not just saying that these are problems that exist, but to say these are solutions that we're proposing about how this can actually get fixed and wouldn't it be nice to actually have a child protection system in New Hampshire that can be a model for child protection across the country where families feel like they have good experiences and are left better than they were found by DCYF.

Do you have friction though being a state employee being involved in one department in the state and advocating for changes in another department? I mean there's friction there is there not?

I would say that I've been fortunate and anyone that I've directly interacted with at this point where we either just don't talk about it or I have been able to kind of keep work work and I would also add that you know I've been contacted by many people since all this started rolling and no one has approached me to say like I think you're off base about your perceptions of what's happening with DCF and America. Thanks so much for your time. Thank you.

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