The New Hampshire Senate approved three bills last week that would provide more than $5 million dollars toward strengthening the state’s child protective system.
The funding would go toward support services for at-risk families and for reducing caseload burdens on the Division of Children, Youth and Families.
Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with the state’s Child Advocate Moira O’neill about the potential for this new funding and how it could affect the division.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
I know we talked with you before you got going in the office. You've been there barely two months now, I think. But I did want to ask you a bit more about this possible funding and what it could do for the department. It looks like this could provide additional staff, which I would gather would be used to alleviate the department's heavy caseload.
Sure, and it's great to be able to comment on this and sort of jump right in and get to work, since I've only, as you say, I've been here for two months. So these three bills essentially are addressing the recommendations, very clear explicit recommendations, that came out of the independent review that was done on DCYF two years ago. And so I think they are going to be really helpful in getting us to where we need to be.
Lawmakers say that this could also expand resources for the foster care system and resources for children with developmental disabilities. How so?
Yes, so there's money in these bills for several things. There's money for voluntary services, and we can talk a little bit about that. There's money for foster care and also to raise the rate of foster care, which hasn't been raised in many years here as I understand it. So it will be easier to support those people who are taking children into their families. There's money for positions, which was a really important piece that the independent review found was missing--having enough staff at DCYF. There's also money for student loan repayment. So professionals coming into social work positions [and] also for other mental health positions. We're really lacking in some of those areas.
This would incentivize people to come in?
These measures are receiving outstanding bipartisan support. I think it's fair to say [with] the Senate voting in favor of all three of these bills to increase funding. Governor Sununu also announcing his support. Do you feel encouraged by that?
I feel very encouraged and it's hard to be partisan on these kinds of issues. We're talking about the health and safety of kids here. And so I really hats off to the legislature to be working together on these issues.
Do you see other needs within the division so far that need to be addressed by lawmakers that maybe aren't receiving that much attention?
I would say off the top this is really the most critical, and I would say the voluntary services piece of this is something that I actually noticed even before I got here, when I was reading the independent review. It's very unusual for a state not to have these resources. And I think that helping families before they're in crisis, helping families before kids are injured possibly permanently, possibly fatally, is going to be saving us in many areas all the way down the road. So when you think about the limitations on a caseworker to find that a parent has been abusive or neglectful, that's generally not something that happens in an instant. That's something that's usually sort of a chronic, sort of leading up to a crescendo, and all of that way a child is being impacted [with] brain development [and] those sorts of things. So being able to have the resources to say, hey let's see how we can help you learn about parenting, help get the stress off of you maybe economically help you find a job, help you understand your kid. Those sorts of things is what we'll see happening in the use of voluntary services. There's also some money in here to send out to communities. New Hampshire had a long history of communities providing their own preventative services. And all of those funds were cut some years ago. So now communities will also be able to support families so that folks will be able to better take care of their kids. Kids will be healthy and grow up to be productive adults.
So what's next for you in your role as the child advocate? What's coming up on your agenda now?
So we're going to see this through. These bills are before the House and we'll see this through. And then, really to be honest, the sort of legislative initiatives kind of took me by surprise in my arrival here because I thought I might spend the first month or two building the office. So we've gotten right to work on this. There have been some really good opportunities to underscore how important these are, but to be honest, I'm hiring staff right now. I have two great positions, an attorney position and a program specialist position, that we're interviewing as we speak. We are finding an office location. We're developing a case management system, and making arrangements with the department so we can get some access to information. Then we can start taking calls from folks in the community to try to help them work their way through with services with DCYF.