Sunday, January 12, 2014

Massachusetts DCF Endangers Children

In 2012, an independent assessment of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families determined that our state was doing a terrible job of caring for at risk children: Here are some scary statistics:
  • 2011, 40 children died while in state care
  • 1 in 5 children experienced abuse or neglect while in state care
  • More than 50 percent of children in care have been prescribed psychotropic drugs
  • DCF workers fail to make 25% of their required monthly visits to families in care
  • More than 18% of children reunited with parents were removed again due to new claims of abuse and neglect
  • The number of foster placements for one child is extremely high, going as high as 20 placements for one child
Ultimately, Massachusetts is doing a worse job of caring for its at risk children than departments in 40 out of the 50 US states. 

This is not all. In 2010 the state was sued (Connor B. v. Patrick), alleging that children suffer four times higher abuse here in MA than they do in the rest of the country. In 2013 a federal judge found that MA DCF "failed not only to comport with national standards...but also to comply with its own internal policies." Judge Judy Brown actually asked of DCF, "Do you care?" 

So, armed with recommendations from the assessment and under pressure to comply with federal laws, what did the state do? Nothing. The result: Jeremiah Oliver is missing and presumed dead and who knows how many more children have been hurt.

Now of course,  the media is adding more pressure and it's an election year, so suddenly the solutions are coming in. Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor, wants to enact a Child Protection Agency within DCF to serve the children deemed most at risk. She has finally stated that children's needs have to come ahead of the needs of the abusive parents. This is from the Boston Herald:

“Right now, a child who is the victim of abuse or neglect may not have someone involved in his or her case who looks out only for the child’s safety,” Coakley said. “During my career, I have seen, day in and day out, how the current structure of DCF puts children at risk and overburdens social workers; the creation of an independent Child Protection Division will go a long way towards addressing these issues.”

Of course this is true but I now ask this of Martha Coakley: Why did you wait until Jeremiah Oliver was dead to come up with an actual solution? If you've known this was an issue throughout your career, why didn't you do something sooner? You're the state's Attorney General. You should have done something. Instead you did nothing and now a little boy is (probably) dead. Shame on you.

Meanwhile, as Martha Coakley devises solutions, the current governor pretends that our current problems are one-off experiences. Governor Deval Patrick, says the issue is not systemic however he's now willing to spend taxpayer money on an outside study to assess the current state of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. The cost for this assessment: $40,000. Did I mention that this study was already thoroughly accomplished by Children's Rights in 2012? Why do we need another one and why do we need to spend taxpayer dollars on it? Let's instead put that $40K someplace it will do some good. If money needs to come out of someone's pocket, let it come out of millionaire Deval Patrick's pockets.

All I can do is hope that the pressure that the media is putting on this case actually makes some positive change in Massachusetts because if left to our elected officials, clearly nothing happens. The only silver lining to any of this is that we might be able to make things better for kids in the future.

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