It’s been an unenviable position for years: Workers at the Division for Children, Youth and Families have some of the highest average workloads in the country.
This week, a bill hoped by lawmakers to address that became law. On Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu and Senate President Donna Soucy signed off on Senate Bill 6, a measure to dramatically increase the staffing at the agency, adding funding for 77 new positions over two years.
The governor also signed a second bill, Senate Bill 14, seeking to fund preventative programs to better divert children from dangerous situations. That bill includes $19.2 million in funding, about half of which would go to fund nine children’s mobile crisis units around the state – enough for each child to get a response to a behavioral health emergency within an hour, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Together, the bills represent a major infusion of funding and programming for the strained child services agency – the “biggest step forward our state has made in a generation,” Soucy claimed in a statement.
Stronger preventative supports to keep children away from child protection services and a more robust workforce to assess children who need them are both key measures to tackle lingering child welfare cases in New Hampshire, advocates have said.
But the bills also underscore another reality: To make them effective, the state has a lot of work to do.
To satisfy the first bill, Senate Bill 6, DHHS officials will have to recruit caseworkers and managers to the beleaguered agency: 57 child protective service workers and 20 child protective supervisors in total. That’s an ambitious task complicated by workforce challenges statewide, and the conditions within a department that has seen high levels of turnover in recent years.
Advocates say increasing the positions will go a long way to reducing the workload for protective workers, who as of March had on average 46 assessments per worker – far more than the nationally-recommended average of 15.
Meanwhile, DHHS will have to build up a number of new programs under SB 14, including a “family support clearinghouse”; an overhaul of treatment and discharge protocols for the state’s child placement facilities; and a new case management system that must take over 75% of transfers involving children with behavioral health conditions by 2022.
Guiding some of those goals are legal considerations: New Hampshire has until 2021 to come into compliance with the Family First Prevention Services Act, which requires states to overhaul their child services systems to include evidence-based care and reduce the number of children in group homes in order to receive federal funds. Senate Bill 14, advocates said, would help the state reach its goal.
A representative of the Department of Health and Human Services was not immediately available to comment.