O’Neill is confirmed as Child Advocate

CONCORD – The New Hampshire Executive Council confirmed Gov. Chris Sununu’s choice of Moira O’Neill to become the state’s first director of the Office of Child Advocate, despite objections from some members of the council.

“(She) will work tirelessly to improve our state’s commitment to the safety and well-being of our children,” Sununu said.

O’Neill, a Maine resident who earned her Ph.D. studying child advocate and ombudsman-type offices throughout the United States, served in the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate.

“It is a great honor to be chosen to serve the children of New Hampshire as the first director of the Office of the Child Advocate,” O’Neill said in a statement released after her confirmation. “It comes with a promise of transparency through scrutiny.”

O’Neill will have two staffers as part of her office to help investigate issues that arise. Her nomination was opposed by Republican councilors Joseph Kenney and David Wheeler. Both Wheeler and Kenney wanted to see a New Hampshire candidate get the job, and both men wanted a former judge they say was a candidate for the position. Sununu declined to name all of the candidates interviewed for the position. Wheeler said the process should have brought out the best candidate.

“I don’t feel that’s the case here,” Wheeler said.

For his part, Kenney is afraid O’Neill’s inexperience in New Hampshire politics will leave her isolated in Concord, and render her office ineffective.

The Office of the Child Advocate was created as part of numerous recommended reforms for New Hampshire following an independent review of the Division of Children Youth & Families in the wake of two child deaths.

Last year, The Center for the Support of Families released its report finding that DCYF failed to protect children in its system from the risk of harm, and that many cases with facts supporting abuse or neglect were closed as unfounded by DCYF.

The report was commissioned by the state after two young children were murdered. Nashua’s Brielle Gage was 3 in 2014 when her mother, Katlyn Marin, beat her to death for reportedly getting a late-night snack without permission. Marin, now serving 45 years to life in prison for second degree murder, had been the subject of at least 10 DCYF investigations, including for allegedly breaking Brielle’s leg just months before the child’s death.

Sadie Willott was 21-months old in 2015 when her mother, Katlin Paquette, of Manchester, allegedly beat her during a bath and left the child with fatal injuries. Like Marin, Paquette had been investigated by DCYF before her child died. She currently is serving a 20- to 40-year prison sentence after reaching a plea agreement.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.