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Opinion

Building Blocks for the Granite State’s Children | Opinion

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by Emily Lawrence, New Hampshire Bulletin
July 24, 2023

Despite a time of seeming conflict, New Hampshire came together for children this year.

Without a voice or a vote, children are too often left off the political agenda and excluded from budget allocations. But this year the New Hampshire Legislature and the governor made significant investments in our state’s children. By doing so, they invested in the future of the Granite State.

And what does the future look like for New Hampshire? It looks like stable families, ready parents, a head start for young children, coverage when a parent or child is ill, and responsive rehabilitation for when things fall apart.

That all translates to child care, health care, early supports and services, family resources, and a thoughtful, restorative juvenile justice system that helps struggling children and makes the community safer. These are the building blocks of granite that will hold the state’s course steady and move us forward.

Child care is essential to children, families, and the state’s economic well-being. Quality, accessible child care leads to higher achievement in adolescence and reduces the likelihood of children being abused or neglected. For too long, New Hampshire families have been struggling not only to access but to maintain child care. This results in a higher risk of harm and detrimental outcomes for children.

Child care constraints, including cost and accessibility, also keep parents out of the workforce. The increasing number of parents who cannot get to work for lack of child care exacerbates regional competition for able workers already stressing New Hampshire businesses.

The child care industry itself is vulnerable to workforce and resource shortages that contribute and compound the problems families face. To help alleviate these challenges, the state made a historic investment in New Hampshire’s child care system this year. With over $60 million passed in the State budget for child care supports, we are well on our way to strengthening the system. This money will increase access to quality, affordable child care for more families. It is a step in the right direction to build and sustain our child care workforce.

Access to health care for families is another essential investment in the healthy development of children. We know that when parents are healthy, and have medical coverage, they are more likely to enroll their children in medical coverage and are better able to support and care for their children. Programs like Medicaid expansion and home visiting serve to reduce child abuse and neglect reports.

In another galvanizing action, the Legislature came together to reauthorize Medicaid expansion for another seven years. Legislators also expanded Medicaid coverage for new mothers and provided funds for the maternal, infant, and early childhood home visiting program. They further invested in Family Resource Centers. These steps strengthen the granite foundation for our children’s health and success.

Across the country, indeed, around the world, we are learning what works and what does not work when we invest in and care for children, especially the most vulnerable with acute and diverse needs resulting from adverse childhood experiences, including abuse or neglect.

These children are often not yet equipped to navigate life’s difficulties in socially acceptable and safe ways. When children express their needs through challenging behavior, historically we have over-relied on institutional placements, incarceration at the Sununu Youth Services Center, and interventions like restraint and seclusion.

Now we know those responses to children’s behavior have not been helpful, nor made communities safe. Recognizing that, New Hampshire has set the state and its children on a path to groundbreaking, strengths-based interventions that improve outcomes for children.

Thanks to the work of the Office of the Child Advocate and other advocates over the past few years, the use of restraint and seclusion has finally been recognized for what it is – harmful. A new law puts in place greater protections for children around the use of restraint and seclusion in residential facilities and schools.

When detention or incarceration is unavoidable, we now recognize the need for change. This year New Hampshire committed to transitioning detained and committed children to a new secure treatment facility that will emphasize trauma-informed, evidence-based care in a therapeutic setting.

We should applaud these successes. Legislators, advocates, and children themselves should all take a collective breath. And then we should get back to work and keep the momentum going. There is more work to do to ensure all New Hampshire’s children are healthy and successful in their own communities.

We must continue to lay the necessary blocks of granite for them. Our future is at stake.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.