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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

DCYF lagging on after-hours hotline to report child abuse

By DAMIEN FISHER

Staff Writer

CONCORD – The Division for Children, Youth & Families still has no after-hours hotline set up that would allow people to report suspected child abuse, despite months of work.

“I’m not satisfied with the progress they’ve made,” said state Rep. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua. ...

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CONCORD – The Division for Children, Youth & Families still has no after-hours hotline set up that would allow people to report suspected child abuse, despite months of work.

“I’m not satisfied with the progress they’ve made,” said state Rep. Donald LeBrun, R-Nashua.

LeBrun, one of the members of a state commission established to review child abuse fatalities, said DCYF has yet to bring forward its formal plan for the hotline. The plan was due at the start of September, but that has now been pushed back until next month, he said.

The latest setback came as DCYF Director Lorraine Barrett testified in Concord this week that her department received no bids from companies to administer the hotline after the DCYF sent out a request for proposal. Without a vendor willing to come in, there can be no hotline. LeBrun said this situation doesn’t make sense.

“It’s amazing that there isn’t a company out there willing to do the work,” he said.

Calls to DCYF to report suspected child abuse don’t go to a live person after 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. That means no one in authority will be alerted to the problem until the next business day at the earliest.

LeBrun said it can take longer than that. If a report of abuse is called in on a Friday evening, police might not be alerted until the next Tuesday.

Jeffrey Meyers, commissioner of New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services, said the DCYF is still committed to setting up the hotline to allow for coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“There have been challenges in hiring personnel to staff this plan, which is why the department put out an RFP seeking a vendor to provide the expanded services,” Meyers said in a statement sent to The Telegraph. “The department will work with the governor, Legislature and Executive Council to look at all available options for a solution to the 24/7 response we believe is needed to ensure the health and safety of children in the state.”

The commission started its work in the wake of the deaths of two New Hampshire children.

Brielle Gage, 4, was taken away from her mother, Katlyn Marin, 26, after allegations of abuse, but later placed back in the home, where she was murdered in November 2014. Marin was convicted of her daughter’s murder this month, and faces 35 years in prison at her sentencing in December.

Sadie Willot was 21 months old when her mother, Katlin Paquette, 23, was charged with killing her last year in Manchester, and DCYF was reportedly involved with that family. Paquette is facing trial on one count of second-degree murder.

There is now the possibility that DCYF will be sued over the way it handled the Gage and Willott abuse cases. Rus Rilee, a Bedford attorney, told The Telegraph he plans to sue DCYF after he won a New Hampshire Supreme Court case that will allow him to file the suits in open court.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-6531 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com.