Bills update safeguards for DCF-involved children and establish bill of rights for foster parents
(BOSTON – 06/30/2022) 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. Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) voted in favor of the legislation.
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.
“We have a duty in the Legislature to ensure that vulnerable children in the care of the Department of Children and Families are protected, and that those responsible for these children are also held accountable and act in the children’s best interests,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. Equally important to children and families are the legislative steps we took today to establish positive rights for foster parents that will strengthen our Commonwealth’s foster care program – leading to more safe, supportive foster homes for our most vulnerable children.”
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.