Proposed contract will review 100 of 1,520 abruptly closed NH DCYF child abuse reports
CONCORD — The Division for Children, Youth and Families plans to initially review less than seven percent of the 1,520 child abuse/neglect assessments abruptly closed over a year ago, straying from officials' calls to review all cases.
READ: NH DCYF director placed on administrative leave after closing 1,520 open child assessments in 2 days
The Executive Council will vote Wednesday on the approval of DCYF entering a sole source agreement with Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. to provide a quality assurance review of the child protective assessments closed on Feb. 22 and 23 of 2016.
The $82,000 agreement with the Clearwater, Florida, non-profit corporation would look at 100 of the closed assessments to determine if DCYF reached the requirements for meeting the safety and risk needs of children in New Hampshire alleged to have been abused or neglected.
When news of the case closures came to light on March 13, Gov. Chris Sununu issued a joint statement with Jeff Meyers, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, saying they planned on reviewing the status of all 1,520 closed assessments.
"We are evaluating the possibility of utilizing outside counsel to thoroughly examine this issue to determine where the system broke down and more importantly, review the status of all 1,520 assessment closures and determine whether any should be re-opened,” the March 13 statement said.
According to Meyers, of the 1,520 cases that DCYF closed, just over 100 were coded as potentially high-risk cases. Those will be the cases that Eckerd Kids will do their initial review on.
Once the corporation issues their final report to DCYF, it will then be determined if additional assessments need to be revisited.
"If they feel that there were assessments that were improperly closed, then we are going to expand their work, and they will look at more of the overdue assessments to ensure that there are not any safety concerns," Meyers said.
DCYF is hoping that the Executive Council, along with Sununu, pass this initial review agreement.
"Should the Governor and Executive Council not authorize this request, the Department would likely be unable to evaluate the Division for Children, Youth, and Families’ practice of assessing safety and risk of child(ren)/youth identified in the Assessments closed between February 22, 2016, and February 23, 2016," the proposed agreement read.
Eckard Kids, which is nationally recognized for their "Rapid Safety Feedback" software, according to their website, has faced their own issues over the past years. However, Meyers said these issues will not affect the investigation into New Hampshire's DCYF.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Eckerd Kids acknowledged last year that 43 foster children were forced to sleep in offices and other unlicensed locations after running out of foster beds. Also, five Florida children allegedly died while in the care of Eckerd Kids.
Meyers explained that Eckerd Kids can be broken into two divisions — a provider of direct services and a consulting firm. He claimed that these incidents happened under the organization's direct services and not through their consulting firm which DCYF is looking to use.
"They have been transparent about their issues and have communicated with us fully," Meyers said.
If approved, Eckard Kids would begin their review June 8 by looking over DCYF's protocols in order to develop a safety analysis tool for the department. Eckerd Kids staff will then apply the safety analysis tool to the 100 assessments to measure compliance with the agency's protocols. From there, they will present a final report to DCYF with areas for improvements and strengths by Dec. 31.
"I hope the review is done in a very timely and short-term basis," Meyers said.
DCYF also has other voting items on the agenda, including the implementation of "Rapid Safety Feedback" software created by Eckerd Kids, which would help identify and review high risk cases. Casey Family Foundation offered to underwrite the costs of this software for two years, Meyers said.