New Hampshire expands oversight by state's child advocate office

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New Hampshire’s child advocate office will soon oversee any agency or organization that enters into agreements with the state to provide services to children as part of its new expansion plan.

Under a law signed by Gov. Chris Sununu over the summer, the Office of the Child Advocate, an independent oversight agency for the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families, will include private residential providers, organizations that serve children with developmental disabilities and individuals and entities that provide special education services under its watch, The Associated Press reported.

The move brings New Hampshire in step with its New England counterparts, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Moira O’Neill, the office’s director, told the AP. The new structure allows the child advocate office for the Granite State to help children any time instead of having to wait for when they are hurt.

“We want to make sure services on the front end and on the prevention side help children get healthy and get their needs met, long before they’re looking at abuse or neglect or adjudication,” O’Neill told the AP.

The office also has a bigger role in determining policy to better protect children and assist their families.

The 2018 establishment of the Office of the Child Advocate traces its roots back to dual tragedies involving toddlers half a decade ago. The office was created during the reformation of New Hampshire’s child protection system.

Since its inception, it has done such things as evaluate the use of restraints on children in residential care and how New Hampshire supports babies born to mothers who heavily consume drugs and alcohol.

The office currently employs four full-time staffers and one part-time worker. O’Neill intends to get the OK to fill an open position despite a statewide hiring freeze caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AP reported.

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