Joe Ribsam, the head of New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families, will leave the state role on June 1 to join the Annie E. Casey Foundation as its director of child welfare and juvenile justice policy.
Lori Weaver, the interim director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, credited Ribsam with jumpstarting a transformation of New Hampshire’s child welfare system during more than five years with the department. Ribsam joined the agency in 2017 when the child welfare system was struggling under the effects of Great Recession-era budget cuts and the emerging opioid crisis.
“During Joe’s tenure, staffing levels have drastically increased while caseloads have dramatically reduced,” Weaver stated in a press release. “While the work is far from complete, the transformation of the child welfare system has vastly improved the lives of thousands of kids and families.”
The state has reduced the number of children in out-of-home foster care by 25% in recent years, according to DHHS. During Ribsam’s tenure, the department also implemented peer navigator programs for parents and kinship caregivers; greater access to youth mental health services outside of child welfare cases; and a diversion program for the juvenile justice system.
Plans to increase support for kinship providers and replace juvenile detention facilities with smaller, therapeutically focused centers also got underway during Ribsam’s time.
“These past five years have been the most exciting and impactful of my career, and my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude for the many who came together for the benefit of those we serve,” Ribsam wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing his departure. Prior to leading New Hampshire’s system, Ribsam held leadership roles in New Jersey’s child welfare agency for nearly a decade.
The Imprint has reported on several strides made in New Hampshire during Ribsam’s tenure. Last year, DHHS launched an effort to eliminate the use of physical restraints and restrict the use of isolation in residential facilities for youth.
In 2021, a law was passed to increase oversight of the use of psychotropic medications in foster care. On a national level, youth in state custody are prescribed these powerful drugs at a much higher rate than their peers, with many youth being prescribed a cocktail of several medications. Prior to the legislation, New Hampshire had among the highest rates of foster children prescribed the meds.
Scandal also marked Ribsam’s time leading the agency. In 2020, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 1,000 individuals who say they were abused as children living at a state-run detention center in the 1990s and 2000s, prior to Ribsam’s tenure. The Legislature ultimately created a $100 million fund to pay out settlements to the accusers. In 2021, the state was also sued in a separate class-action over alleged overuse of congregate care settings for older youth in foster care.
Ribsam succeeds Rob Geen, who recently left the foundation after 14 years and has started the consulting firm CWPolicy.