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Rep. Rogers Votes In Favor of H.4841 in Favor of Foster Care Reform

(Author: Rep. John Rogers)

Last week as I left the House Session at the State House, after voting in favor of the Foster Care Reform and sending it to the Senate, I was heartened to hear from colleagues how much my earlier work on foster care and child welfare laid the foundation to make today’s reform possible. As the House Democratic Majority Leader, I led the effort to abolish the old and wayward system under the Department of Social Services (DSS) to create a newly empowered system under what I created as the Department of Children and Families (DCF) giving it, in the best interests of abused and neglected children, new tools and resources to protect and enhance the quality of life for these our most vulnerable children of the Commonwealth.

I recall with fondness chairing the hearings in which the committee called only children and child advocates to testify. At the time of this last reform, things were horrific: the number of abused and neglected children in Massachusetts was more than those who filled Fenway Park in the 2017 World Series; and the leading cause of death in our state for kids under 4 was because of their primary caretaker.

Today, things are better...but there’s more to be done and this bill is a healthy next step. Throughout this pandemic, DCF has reports a deep drop in 51A Reports which alert authorities of incidents of child abuse and/or neglect...this is not good news for a disturbing reason: mandated reporters who are required to report child abuse and neglect, like teachers, child care providers, coaches, and others have had limited in-person interaction with the very children they otherwise see each day in person.

Specifically, the bill we passed last week in the House requires:

  • DCF to report monthly to the Legislature on changes in child abuse and neglect cases;

  • DCF to implement a public information campaign to improve awareness of child abuse and neglect during the public health crisis;

  • DCF to report on efforts to support the foster care system;

  • DCF to analyze the effect on virtual and video technology on services during COVID-19;

  • Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to work with DCF to provide an analysis of active remote learning participation rates during the COVID-19 crisis, including participation rates of children with open DCF cases; and

  • DESE to coordinate with DCF to develop a statewide plan to ensure effective and ongoing engagement relative to remote learning, including guidance and best practices for engaging the most vulnerable and at-risk students and families.

Quality Improvement: This bill installs certain safeguards, including requirements for DCF to review the case transfer policy to improve protocols for complex cases, and create a managerial review in reunification decisions. It also requires social services programs to communicate more promptly with social workers conducting client and collateral checks. Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights. Concerns of uncertainty regarding the rights of foster parents and the responsibilities of DCF related to training and processes have been intensified by COVID-19. This bill requires DCF to create a Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights outlining the relationship between the department and foster parents. A clear articulation of the rights of foster parents and the responsibilities of DCF will increase confidence and trust and is designed to retain and recruit foster families.

Strengthening the Integrity of the Office of the Child Advocate: The Office of the Child Advocate is statutorily required to ensure the highest quality of services and supports are provided to safeguard the health, safety, and well-being of all children receiving services across the Commonwealth. This bill requires the Child Advocate to report any findings of critical incident reports that result in the death of a child due to a reasonable belief that a state agency failed in its duty to protect a child, jointly and simultaneously, to the governor, attorney general, speaker of the house, and senate president before the agency in question.

Data Reporting Initiative. In response to serious events and concerns about children in DCF care, the Legislature has historically directed DCF to complete various reporting requirements; however, the agency has been unable to fulfill its statutory requirements to complete all reports. This bill updates and streamlines DCF reporting requirements to ensure the delivery of timely and relevant data in both a comprehensive annual report and robust quarterly reports. In addition, DCF is required to detail actions it has taken to provide culturally competent services to children and families and report on transition planning, fair hearings, reports made to the Ombudsman, and a detailed accounting of services provided through contracted agencies.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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