Bill Also Establishes a Foster Parent Bill of Rights and Increases Access to Mental Health Care
The Massachusetts Senate recently passed a bill to introduce new oversight and reporting requirements for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). The bill, An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families,also moves the child fatality review board to the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA), establishes a ‘Foster Parent Bill of Rights,’ and increases access to mental health care for children in the Commonwealth.
Under the bill, the DCF would be required to publish consolidated annual reports and quarterly profiles, establish a 3-year plan with targets for safety, permanence and well-being outcomes for children, and submit a report on young adults who continue to receive services after reaching the age of 18. The bill also updates reporting requirements that are outdated, irrelevant or duplicative, and requires DCF and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop clear plans for maintaining close contact with, and providing quality education to, children who have open cases with DCF during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
“This bill is an important step in maintaining the health and well-being of vulnerable children in our Commonwealth, particularly during this time of increased anxiety and need,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “I’m pleased that this bill reduces barriers to mental health care for children and increases access to treatment, making it easier for parents to get their child the critical care they need and deserve. I’m grateful for Senate President Spilka and all of my Senate colleagues for recognizing the importance of improving mental health care in our state and making it a priority this session.”
To increase access to vital mental health care for children in care, the bill eliminates prior authorization for mental health acute treatment for children experiencing acute mental health crises. It also requires emergency departments to have the capacity to evaluate and stabilize a person admitted with a mental health presentation at all times, and to refer them to appropriate treatment or inpatient admission, expediting the process for individuals under 22 years old. Additionally, the bill establishes a pilot program, administered by the Department of Public Health, to increase student access to tele-behavioral health services in schools.
The bill seeks to increase support for, and grow the pool of, foster parents in the Commonwealth through the establishment of a ‘Foster Parent Bill of Rights.’ Specifically, the bill includes several key rights important to foster families, including: access to training and resources; the right to appropriate communication between DCF, courts, and others involved with caring for the child; the right to be free from all forms of discrimination in carrying out their duties as foster parents; the ability to exercise rights without fear of repercussions; and establishing a reasonable and prudent parenting standard.
The bill,An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families, now moves to the House of Representatives for further action.