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Feb 14, 2017 5:47 PM

NH bill proposes making DCYF independent state agency separate from DHHS


CONCORD - New Hampshire lawmakers are now considering a bill that would make the Division of Children, Youth and Families an independent state agency.

Sen. Sharon Carson presented SB 239 to the Senate Health and Human Services committee on Tuesday. The bill would separate DCYF from the Department of Health and Human Services, making it and independent department.

"The question that I have and that, really, what I pose here with this piece of legislation: how long do you have to try to fix something that's broken?" Carson said during her testimony.

Carson said the time to resolve DCYF's numerous problems is now. She proposes an agency known as the "department of children's services and juvenile justice."

"I think it's time that we get someone to be the head of an agency, to speak and protect our state's most vulnerable children," she said.

DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said finding solutions to the department's existing issues will take more time.

"There are a lot of complex reasons why we're in the position that we're in," Meyers testified. "I don't think that any single person or entity is to blame."

He went on to argue DCYF - as well as many other services including mental health and welfare - functions better under the DHHS umbrella because of how closely those services are connected.

"An integrated department, if it's functioning properly, will be able to attend to all those needs," he said. "[Separating DCYF would be] creating an automatic barrier to integrating that and making sure that family and kids are assessed for all the other services."

The bill is in direct response to an independent review of DCYF that was completed and presented in December. That review was sparked by two high-profile cases, in which two mothers murdered their young daughters.

READ: DCYF Report says independent reviewer makes 20 recommendations to improve system

Carson explained the findings of the review weren't sufficient enough to address DCYF's prominent issues.

"We were promised that we were going to find out what happened to two little girls that died," she said. "There's no mention of those little girls in that report, whatsoever. We have to do better than what we've done."

Last month, a joint House-Senate Task Force was appointed to decide how to address the issues with funding and possibly legislation.

Meyers, during his testimony, asked the committee to give the Task Force a chance before moving SB 239 forward.

"I believe that this bill should be deferred with respect to final action by the Senate until the Task Force does its work," he said.

READ: NH officials reflect on ways to improve DCYF after recent review

Meyers added he'll be making a full presentation to the Task Force in the near future.

Carson argued that major action is needed to see change.

"I believe that [DCYF] would be better served having its own agency, having its own commissioner that's going to be responsible for the legislature and to the people that they serve," she said.

The Senate committee has until March 2 to advance the bill to the next stages of the legislative process.

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