A state commission has given the green light to an interim plan that will provide around-the-clock coverage at the state Division of Children, Youth and Families.
The Commission of Child Abuse Fatalities unanimously approved the proposal Monday.
The commission was formed to examine issues within DYCF, which came under scrutiny following the recent deaths of two young children.
The $1.8 million plan re-purposes existing state money to hire 18 new child protective workers and supervisors to cover nights and weekends.
Before the vote, the commission heard concerns from DCYF caseworkers about the impact 24/7 coverage will have on a department already dealing with high caseloads and significant turnover.
Demetrios Tsaros, a DCYF caseworker, criticized the proposal, saying it will further strain an already depleted staff.
“Taking a system that is already struggling to handle the workload of Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4:30 pm, and asking that it cover the state 24/7 is not going to make children more safe."
Tsaros says in a 17-day span this month, the Manchester DCYF office received 121 reports to investigate.
"That’s well over 20 reports per fully trained worker so far for the month of March. Five years ago, the average worker received 12 reports a month," he said. “As this point, we are doing triage. It’s not the work that we want to be doing, but it’s the best we can do with what we currently have.”
Laurie Pelletier, also a DCYF caseworker, says the lack of technology is also a problem. Most employees don't have laptops or access to email outside the office, he said.
” Whenever we’re out in the field and have to create a case plan or create anything, take notes, we’re doing it all manually and then we have to go back to the office and enter that all into the computer at our desk.”
Pelletier also raised concerns about the high turnover rate, saying it feels as though DCYF hasn't been fully staffed for at least five years.
“As soon as they announce a position is filled, somebody else is giving their notice," she said. "And it’s directly related to the stress of the job."
Sen. David Boutin told the employees the issues they're raising will be part of an upcoming independent investigation of DCYF.
Other members of the commission acknowledged the plan is a temporary solution, but say providing 24/7 coverage is critical.
“This is just one step. We’re going to continue to look at this overall problem and do whatever we can to help it," said Rep. Joseph Guthrie of Hampstead. "We all recognize that yes, it’s New Hampshire, but we do have to spend money. I’m a pretty conservative Republican but I can’t see how anybody can justify not funding this kind of an operation for children.”
DCYF’s Executive Director Lorraine Bartlett says the plan should be in place by September.