Former DCYF worker awarded $275K

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CONCORD – Ashley Rossiter, a former child protection worker in the Nashua office of the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth & Families, will collect $275,000 after settling her lawsuit claiming the agency does not protect children.

Rossiter, interviewed on Friday, alleges the agency is still failing children, despite increased funding from the state that is adding staff.

“It’s more about numbers, it’s not about children,” Rossiter said.

Represented by attorney Stephen Martin, Rossiter filed the lawsuit last year in the Merrimack Superior Court in Concord.

Though she’s been out of the agency for a few years, Rossiter said she remains close to current employees who tell her the situation hasn’t changed much since she left in 2015. While there has been turnover at the top, with former DCYF director Lorraine Bartlett leaving after 28 years, Rossiter said the middle management inside DCYF is still more focused on closing cases than protecting children.

“It’s not getting better,” Rossiter said.

Rossiter was a caseworker for DCYF’s Nashua office from 2011 to 2015. Her lawsuit alleges numerous instances of her being reprimanded for not following her supervisor’s directions when it came to child protection.

In one case, she refused her supervisor’s order to close a case as “unfounded.” The child in question had injuries that medical professionals stated were done to him. Rossiter’s lawsuit states she was disciplined for not filing the case “unfounded.”

In other instances, she contacted police about a father who had allegedly been beating his child. The father was scheduled to meet with DCYF to discuss his case, and police had filed a warrant for his arrest related to the alleged abuse. Rossiter told police about the meeting, and her supervisors disciplined her for that contact, according to the lawsuit.

In another instance, Rossiter had a client, a young boy, who told her he was going to harm himself or others because of the abuse he was suffering. Her supervisors blocked her from getting a removal order, according to the lawsuit, because she already had too much comp time.

In other cases, she was disciplined for staying late at work to locate children in danger, the lawsuit states.

A recent federal review of New Hampshire’s DCYF alleges the agency fails to protect children. Rossiter said this review hits closer to the truth than the other independent reviews paid for by the state.

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said the decision to settle Rossiter’s case came after looking at the facts, reviewing the possible interpretations of the law, and considering the possibility of a lengthy trial in which numerous state employees could be called as witnesses, taking them away from their normal jobs.

“We decided we would settle the case and avoid a multi-day, or even a multi-week trial,” Edwards said.

New Hampshire’s DCYF has been scrutinized after recent high-profile abuse cases, including the murder of Nashua toddler Brielle Gage by her mother, Katlyn Marin. Marin, who beat the 3-year-old Brielle to death because she got a snack after bedtime in November 2014, had been the subject of at least 10 DCYF investigations prior to the murder. Marin was found guilty at trial and is currently appealing her prison sentence of 45 years-to-life.

In September 2015, 21-month-old Sadee Willott was murdered by her mother, Katlin Paquette, who had been the subject of several DCYF investigations prior to the death. Paquette is serving a 21-to-45-year sentence after pleading guilty to second degree murder.

Earlier this year, state officials agreed to pay $6.75 million to two young girls and their adoptive parents to settle a lawsuit that alleged negligence on the part of DCYF. The girls were reportedly forced to endure unsupervised visits with their biological parents, who allegedly sexually assaulted the girls during those visits. The children were both under the age of 5 at the time of the abuse. The biological parents both pleaded guilty and are serving life sentences.

While more social workers are good, it does not change the culture of the agency, Rossiter said. It is a culture that does not protect children.

“More caseworkers is not going to bring back Brielle; more case workers is not going to bring back Sadee; and more case workers is not going to stop the sexual abuse of those two girls,” Rossiter said. “They keep throwing money at the problem, and that’s not going to solve it.”

Edwards declined to comment about the current state of DCYF, but said the AG’s office has been overseeing DCYF attorneys and the prosecution of DCYF cases since 2017. This is one of the reforms put in place for the agency. Edwards said she is pleased with the progress made on the case prosecution.

As part of the agreement, DCYF is required to provide Rossiter with a positive employment reference.

“She was an advocate for families, and she worked tirelessly to meet their needs,” the letter written by DCYF Field Administrator Melinda Tupaj states. “Additionally, she was passionate about ensuring children were safe and continually strived to improve her skills.”

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