COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON 02133
Senator Joan B. Lovely
2nd Essex District
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 30, 2022
Senate Passes Legislation for Children and Families
Bills update safeguards for DCF-involved children and establish bill of rights for foster parents
BOSTON –The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed legislation to ensure stability and oversight of care for the more than 3,000 Massachusetts children involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), as well as to ensure protection of the rights of foster parents.
Following the revelation that DCF failed to act on leads which might have prevented the abuse and tragic death of 14-year-old David Almond, S.2953 An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families creates additional safeguards and clarifies requirements for DCF-involved children and families. To ensure that foster parents’ rights are respected in all interactions between a family and the Commonwealth, S.2954 An Act establishing a foster parents’ bill of rights seeks to codify the fundamental rights of foster parents.
“What happened to David Almond was absolutely heartbreaking,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “As a former Chair of Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, ensuring the safety and well-being of the Commonwealth’s children remains personally important to me, and with this bill, we have a real chance to repair cracks in our system designed to protect children and families. At the same time, although foster parents are critical in our efforts to give children a better life, being a foster parent is often a difficult and thankless job. Enshrining the rights of foster parents into law is an important step to support help foster parents as they support the children in their care. I’d like to thank Senators Gomez and Comerford for their work on these bills, and Senator Rodrigues for ensuring that they move forward.”
“The passage of these bills today marks another step in our collective commitment to protect the health and well-being of our children and families, improve outcomes and increase accountability in the child welfare system,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I want to thank the Senate President for her leadership in prioritizing these bills, and Senators Lovely, Gomez, Comerford and others for their steadfast advocacy and support for our most vulnerable children and the foster parents who go great lengths to care for them.”
“I’m proud to sponsor this legislation to update the Department of Children and Families’ reporting requirements,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem), lead sponsor of S.2953 An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families. “This data helps us to make sound policy-making decisions and evaluate the outcomes for DCF-involved youth and their families. I am incredibly grateful to Commissioner Spears, the Child Advocate, and all the advocates that have worked together to develop these updated requirements to ensure that these reports will continue to be valuable tools long into the future. I was also proud to vote today with my Senate colleagues to pass a foster parents’ bill of rights to support our foster families, which are a key component of our child welfare system. I want to thank Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, Senator Comerford, and all my Senate colleagues for their unwavering support of our most vulnerable children.”
“The legislation passed today reflects the Senate’s commitment to ensuring young people, their families, and the people that take care of them are supported and lifted up,” said Senator Adam Gomez (D-Newton), Chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “I learned shortly after being named the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities about the tragic loss of David Almond. It instilled in me and my team the need for a comprehensive piece of legislation that protected children in the Commonwealth, streamlined the work agencies and related parties do, and touched on the impact that foster parents have on a young person’s life, all to ensure that we were doing the necessary work to mitigate any risks to young people in the state. This legislation does just that—thanks to the incredible work of the advocates, Senator Lovely, Senate President Spilka, Senate Chair of Ways and Means Rodrigues, and their teams. The bills passed today also acknowledge the tremendous work done by foster parents in our communities, providing essential services, love, and care to children in their time of greatest need. Without the work of foster parents, advocacy groups, constituents who have reached out, and my colleagues, we would not be here today passing these bills. Thank you to everyone for their efforts to get this to the finish line!”
“The rights and responsibilities of foster parents are dispersed among a set of laws, regulations, DCF policies and procedures, and undocumented historic practices,” said Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), lead sponsor of S.2954 An Act establishing a foster parents’ bill of rights. “The result is a maze of rules and parameters which sometimes leave foster parents feeling confused, untethered, and unfairly treated. This legislation helps the state provide the guidelines and resources necessary for foster parents to adequately provide for the children in their care.”
Safeguards for DCF-Involved Youth
S.2953 An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families updates and consolidates the reporting requirements of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). In the event of an emergency change in a child’s placement, DCF would be required to notify the child’s attorney within a single day of the change; in a non-emergency change in placement, DCF would be required to notify the child’s attorney within five days. The bill seeks to address problems which arose during the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and which may have contributed to lapses in oversight during that time, by requiring DCF to regularly report on the impact of a state of emergency on DCF operations.
Furthermore, the bill tasks DCF with establishing a standard protocol to use when making decisions about a child’s placement which could result in the removal a child from their parent or reunification of them with their family. By establishing a standard protocol, DCF would ensure that decisions are made in an effective manner to prioritize the safety and long-term well-being of the children of the Commonwealth.
Steps to increase transparency and publicly available information are included. Under the bill, DCF would add information to their website, including quarterly data on consumer accounts, case counts, demographic information and placement counts. The bill requires DCF to identify and report on potential improvements to the process of transferring cases which involve multiple social workers or area offices, and to annually report on services provided to young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. Furthermore, the bill would ensure that public comment is solicited on DCF’s annual report.
In addition to the immediate safeguards put in place to protect the wellbeing of children and families, this legislation would also begin a five year-long process in which DCF would partner with the legislature to establish additional safety mechanisms.
Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights
S.2954 An Act establishing a foster parents’ bill of rights, codifies Massachusetts foster parents’ rights to: be provided with training to be a foster parent; be provided with information about the child to be placed in their home; have reasonable access to a social worker and family resource worker; be notified of meetings and court hearings for one’s foster child; and have the opportunity to communicate with professionals who work with the child.
It also codifies the rights to: be permitted to make routine decisions about the foster child’s activities; be updated on relevant changes in policies, procedures and law; be given the action plan for the child in their home; be informed about payment and available financial supports; have the right to request removal of a child from their home; be notified when a child is to be removed from their home; be provided with their record, including grievances and hearing requests; and not be discriminated against.
Though many of these rights are already observed in a majority of cases or are required elsewhere in Massachusetts law, by recognizing these as positive rights possessed by individual foster parents, rather than mere obligations for state agencies to uphold, the bill would ensure that these standards are followed without exception in interactions between the Commonwealth and foster parents. A copy of this bill of rights would be provided to foster parents.