The Division for Children, Youth and Families unveiled a $1.8 million plan Monday to provide around-the-clock staffing at child protection services, which is currently open during business hours only.
The state agency, which investigates reports of child abuse and neglect, has come under renewed scrutiny following the recent deaths of two New Hampshire toddlers.
A state commission to review child abuse fatalities has been weighing whether to expand the agency’s hours beyond the current Monday through Friday schedule between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
The division’s proposal, presented Monday, would re-purpose existing state money to bring on 18 new child protective workers and supervisors who would primarily cover a new shift from noon to 8 p.m. Some of the workers would also cover overnights and weekends.
The division currently has 176 child protection field workers on staff.
“It would significantly enhance the department’s ability to investigate and respond to reports of abuse and neglect,” said Jeff Meyers, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes child protection services.
Currently, weekend and nighttime complaints are typically covered by local law enforcement, which has requested longer hours at DCYF.
The plan could be in place by September, Meyers said, but it first needs approval from the commission and a legislative fiscal committee.
Some officials questioned whether the agency should beef up its existing staffing levels before expanding its hours.
The report revealed the child protection services division suffers from high staff turnover – which reached 50 percent in the last two years – and a growing number of caseloads. Reports of child abuse and neglect accepted by the division rose 17 percent over the last five years, officials said.
“If you continue to have high turnover rate, you are really never going to catch up. I am concerned about the turnover rate,” said Marc Clement, who represents the New Hampshire Child Fatality Review Committee on the commission.
The commission, going forward, needs to understand what’s behind the turnover, said its chairman, Sen. David Boutin.
“What is (the turnover) related to? Is it related to pay, is it related to benefits, is it related to the work?” asked Boutin, a Hooksett Republican. “What do we need to do to correct it?”
The division had previously released a more expensive 24/7 staffing plan in January, which proposed bringing on more than 50 workers at a cost of $4 million. But that proposal was pulled back in favor of the staffing report released Monday.
HHS Assistant Commissioner Mary Ann Cooney said the new recommendation is scaled back so the department can collect data before it presents a full request in the next state budget – which will be crafted by the governor and Legislature in 2017.
Boutin said the proposal is a good first step, and it will likely come up for a commission vote at the next meeting in late March.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)