Addressing the state’s oversight committee monitoring the Division of Children, Youth and Families, Gov. Chris Sununu voiced support for the creation of a new Office of the Child Advocate and other reforms in response to systemic problems at the child services agency.
Sununu told the commission his team has been “aggressive” about visiting regional DCYF offices and caseworkers to better understand what problems need to be fixed.
“They’re out there working their tails off, frankly, with a lot of passion and a lot of care, only trying to get the best results for the kids. And I think they, for the most part, they’re really do a tremendous job for the state, they do,” Sununu said. “The issue is not with them.”
Sununu expressed regret that negative publicity around the agency might be hampering morale among front-line workers at the agency.
“We, and I take full responsibility, have to be more cognizant about making sure that we’re reminding ourselves of the good that we do within that department, the good people that we have,” Sununu said. “I think over time, as we bring these changes in, as we provide the adequate funding, as we start fully staffing these facilities and these frontline organizations as we move forward, I think just naturally that rising tide is going to float all boats.”
Sununu said he expects the executive council to confirm his nominee for a newly created post overseeing DCYF at its meeting tomorrow. That nominee, Christine Tappan, works in government affairs for a national health and human services organization but previously worked as a DCYF administrator.
A bill still working its way through the Legislature would eliminate the existing division director position overseeing DCYF and move those responsibilities to a new associate commissioner role. The same bill proposes “an independent office of the child advocate and an oversight commission on child services and juvenile justice,” among other reforms.
DCYF has been operating with an interim division director since March, when Sununu fired the previous head of child services after The Concord Monitor reported the agency waived normal procedures to rapidly close out more than 1,500 open cases.
Sununu said the state also plans to start enlisting the help of a national organization, Eckerd Kids, to identify cases needing extra scrutiny from the state. The contract is expected to be up for a vote at the June 7 executive council meeting.