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Report shows progress in child protection agency reform

A new report shows New Hampshire's child protection agency fielded a record number of calls in the last year, but the number of children removed from their homes has leveled off, and exits from foster care have begun to outpace entries.

The Department of Health and Human Services has compiled the first of what will become an annual data book on its Division for Children Youth and Families. The report released Friday analyzes information about child protection, foster and adoptive care, juvenile justice and programs to support families. Officials said it shows signs that efforts to reform the state's child protection system are paying off.

"We want our families to be successful and strong before a crisis requires our intervention," DCYF Director Joseph Ribsam said in a statement. "It's a positive development to see an increase in the number of kids that can remain safely with their own families. Going forward, we will continue to use data to help ups build a system of child well-being that allows families to thrive."

From July 2018 to July 2019, the division's intake unit fielded 30,993 calls, resulting in more than 12,000 assessments for child abuse and neglect, also an all-time high. But the number of children in out-of-home care plateaued after years of drastic increases, and there was a significant increase in the number of children being cared for in their own homes or with other family members. Exits from out-of-home care exceeded entries for the first time since 2014.

The agency has been under scrutiny since the deaths of two toddlers under its supervision in 2014 and 2015. Those cases spurred an independent review of the agency, which concluded that it often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed. In a report released in late 2016, auditors also described a restrictive child protection law that sets a high bar for determining neglect, a seriously overloaded DCYF workforce and a lack of services available to families.

Officials have undertaken multiple reform efforts since then, including the creation of an Office of the Child Advocate, increasing the division's staffing and restoring voluntary services for parents aimed at preventing abuse and neglect.

"Real reform was needed to ensure that all points of a child's development, at any age and for whatever the reason, that we are doing what we can to ensure our kids are safe," Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement. "There is more to do, but today's report demonstrates that we are making real, positive progress."

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