BOSTON – House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and State Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn) are supporting legislation to expand the reporting requirements for the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and to require the implementation of a Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights.
House Bill 4841, An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families, was engrossed by the House of Representatives on a vote of 158-0 on July 9. In addition to requiring DCF to develop and update specific case management policies to improve its operations and to ensure the safety of the children under its care, the bill also calls for more details on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted children served by DCF.
Since Governor Baker’s declaration of a State of Emergency on March 10, reports of child abuse and neglect have dropped by 51%, raising concerns that many cases may be going unreported. To address this problem, House Bill 4841 requires DCF to implement a public awareness campaign and to provide monthly updates to the Legislature regarding any changes in child abuse and neglect cases.
During floor debate, the House adopted an amendment to address a 2016 law that has had the unintended consequence of preventing law enforcement officials from reporting information pertaining to suspected child abuse and neglect in domestic violence situations to DCF. The amendment directs a special commission currently reviewing the state’s mandated reporter laws to consider allowing these incidents to be reported to DCF.
“The state has an obligation to ensure that every child in its care or custody is placed in a safe and nurturing environment, and to do everything it can to keep them from harm,” said Representative Jones. “This bill will help to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable residents and will hopefully encourage more people to open their hearts and their homes to children in need by becoming foster parents.”
“Making sure our kids under the care of DCF are safe is the Commonwealth’s absolute responsibility,” said Representative Haggerty. “Recruiting new foster families, holding DCF accountable, and understanding the impacts COVID-19 has had on the education of children served by DCF are just some of the important components to this legislation.”
Jones and Haggerty said the bill’s inclusion of a Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights is designed to recruit and retain foster parents by giving them a better understanding of their rights and DCF’s responsibilities. Some of the requirements of the proposed bill of rights is that DCF will give foster parents:
• standardized pre-service training;
• more information about the foster child prior to their placement;
• an opportunity to review DCF’s action plan regarding the child placed in their home and to discuss the plan with their social worker;
• information about financial supports and services available to them; and
• a staffed 24-hour emergency hotline that can be accessed when DCF offices are closed.
Among the reporting provisions included in House Bill 4841 is a requirement that DCF file an annual report detailing the outcomes of children and young adults leaving or aging out of DCF care, and whether they have secured housing, employment, and post-secondary education. The bill also requires DCF to report annually on its fair hearing process and cases, and directs the department’s Ombudsman to annually disclose any questions or concerns received during the previous fiscal year.
House Bill 4841 also expands the role of the Child Advocate by transferring oversight of the state’s child fatality review team from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office to the Child Advocate, who will also serve as its co-chair. The Child Advocate will be responsible for presenting the findings of all investigations into critical incidents involving the death of a child who is under state care or receiving state services when there is a reasonable belief that a state agency failed in its duty to protect the child.
House Bill 4841 now heads to the Senate for its consideration.