Keeping Children Safe Is Everyone’s Mandate
“Better safe than sorry.” That sentiment likely explains why 43% of community members surveyed had called the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) Child Protective Services (CPS) about concerns that did not involve child abuse or neglect.
Whether to report a concern about a child is a decision point that often creates inequity in child welfare. Individual bias can influence a decision to report, and some professionals report because they feel mandated to—even without concerns of abuse or neglect. Some people report because they want to help a family and know of no other options. In addition, thousands of families are reported to CPS but do not reach the threshold for abuse and neglect. A community response guide is a way to support anyone who is trying to decide if they should call CPS, whether or not they are mandated to do so. It also offers a new way for the community to support families who do not need CPS intervention.
Evident Change has developed reporting guides with several jurisdictions to help mandated reporters make better decisions. Educators, medical professionals, law enforcement, and other members of every community are mandated to report concerns of suspected child abuse or neglect. However, in some states like New Hampshire, all residents are considered mandated reporters. DCYF is working to improve the outcomes of reporting in their state by putting a tool in the hands of all residents—not just professionals—to help guide this very tough and complex decision.
With funding from Casey Family Programs, Evident Change staff and a team from New Hampshire are creating a community response guide for the state. “The team creating this new tool goes beyond DCYF and includes the community—parents who have been through CPS, family resource centers, other community organizations that might be seen as less punitive than CPS,” said Emerson Ives, Evident Change program specialist.
Ives said they are starting the guide “from scratch,” with people from the community involved at every point in the process. “It’s a lot of work, but we have had some great discussions and have been able to unpack some of the complexities and disconnects around reporting like never before. We use gradients of agreement to reach consensus and ask folks with the most experience, both lived and professional, to lead the discussions. We’re committed to the process as much as the product.”
Another change coming to New Hampshire is a new prevention job position designed to support the community response guide. “The tool may advise you to make a report, provide a resource, or call this entity to talk through the concern,” Ives explained. If CPS intervention is not necessary, but the family needs support of some kind, the entity will help the reporter support the family in a new way. They will also provide direct outreach and support to families.
Because of its transparency and diverse team, the development process for the community response guide is helping to build relationships, Ives said. “This really changes the way we are thinking and making decisions around how to support families. It goes beyond the idea that our only options are to report or not report and focuses on getting the right kind of help to the right families at the right time.”