CONCORD, N.H. — A father who killed his 6-year-old son and himself last month wasn’t offered help despite repeatedly telling child welfare workers he felt overwhelmed by family conflicts, the director of the state Office of the Child Advocate said Thursday.
Moira O’Neill said she will seek a full review of the death of Preston Edmunds, who was found dead with his father Feb. 12 in a sealed-off bedroom with two charcoal grills inside. Authorities say Matthew Edmunds killed the boy and himself via carbon monoxide poisoning.
O’Neill said eight referrals were made to the Division of Children, Youth and Families about Edmunds between February 2015 and June 2017, but none met the threshold for opening a case to address abuse or neglect. Edmunds was described as being nurturing and having strong parenting skills, but also repeatedly asking for help managing difficult family situations, including his grief over the accidental drowning death of another son and Preston’s developing behavioral issues, she said.
In April, Edmunds left a child welfare worker a message indicating an emergency and saying he was “not doing well.” But his requests for help were deemed a “parenting strength,” O’Neill said, and the state no longer offers support services for families when children are at risk but haven’t actually been abused or neglected.
“IF the DCYF worker had been able to open a voluntary case for this family with ‘moderate risk’ of abuse and neglect, the outcome could have been different,” O’Neill said in a statement. “Tight budgets make appropriating funds for family support services hard, but New Hampshire cannot afford this kind of family despair.”
The division has been under scrutiny since two toddlers under its supervision were killed in 2014 and 2015. The deaths spurred an independent review of the agency, which concluded that it often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed. In a report released in late 2016, auditors also described a restrictive child protection law that sets a high bar for determining neglect, a seriously overloaded DCYF workforce and a lack of services available to families.
The Legislature is considering several bills to restore funding for such services. Both O’Neill and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu urged lawmakers to pass the legislation.
Sununu called the Derry case a “tragic and potentially avoidable situation.”
“Throughout the past year, I have visited those on the frontlines at the Division of Child Youth and Family who stressed the importance of voluntary and prevention services being made available,” he said in a statement. “I heard their concerns and made the restoration of these services a key priority of mine this legislative session.”