CONCORD - The State Child Advocate Office on Tuesday released disturbing numbers related to the most vulnerable victims of New Hampshire's opioid epidemic, namely innocent newborns.
The office released its first "System Review Briefing" this morning. It outlines plans for a system-wide review of the Division for Children, Youth and Families' response to infants who are born exposed to illicit substances and resources available beyond DCYF.
The briefing stated that 466 children involved in DCYF abuse/neglect assessments in 2018 showed characteristics indicating the child was born "drug exposed." Moira O'Neill, the director of the State of New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, pointed out that the OCA has received five reports of deaths of children who were born substance-exposed, two in the last reporting period, three in the current. Those deaths had occurred outside DCYF custody and up to 23 months after enhanced assessments, protocols designed to protect the child while it remains in the home.
The OCA has also received reports of 11 additional children who have been involved in critical incidents other than deaths since their birth (e.g. serious injury, parent death).
"New Hampshire is benefitting from extraordinary partnerships with the federal government to combat opioid use," said O'Neill. "We need to be sure infants and children are safe in the meantime.
"We need to understand if we are seeing a trend among at-risk infants and whether our child welfare and public health systems have the resources they need to address it," O'Neill said.
The OCA System Review Briefing is described as a means to hold the OCA accountable to the public and ensure transparency of the office's work. Briefings are published when a review is expected to take more than a standard of 60 business days and require additional office resources. The briefing identifies the areas of additional research, how the system review will proceed, and an estimation of time to completion. The review is expected to be completed by July 1.