State Rep. Dan Ryan joined Speaker Bob DeLeo and colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families, which strengthens the laws ensuring the safety and well-being of the Commonwealth’s youngest and most at-risk residents.
Building on the House of Representative’s commitment to those served by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), this legislation addresses the needs of vulnerable children and families that have been amplified by the COVID-19 public health crisis and further illuminated through the lens of racial equity. Specifically, this legislation strengthens DCF policies and operations, develops a tool to retain and recruit foster families, holds DCF accountable for timely, accurate and relevant reports, and clarifies communication by the Child Advocate to the Legislature and state officeholders. The legislation compels data to analyze the impacts of remote learning on all children during the COVID-19 crisis with a focus on understanding the disparate educational impacts on children served by DCF. Additionally, the bill calls for a public service campaign to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect.
“This legislation further reforms the Department of Children & Families. The House has prioritized the needs of our most at-risk children, some of whom may be more at-risk as programming and other safety nets have been impacted by COVID ” said Ryan, who represents Chelsea and Charlestown. “These reforms will allow the Department to better handle the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these vulnerable populations. I commend our COVID leadership team on recognizing a need and addressing it.”
Said State Rep. Paul Donato, “As the Chair of the Foster Care Caucus and as a former foster care child, issues regarding the protection of children and the services provided by state agencies including DCF have always been central to me as a state representative.”
The legislation addresses the needs of at-risk children and families through five major initiatives:
•Measuring the Impact of COVID-19.
In order to best understand the effects of the state of emergency related to COVID-19, this legislation requires DCF to report on various aspects of the child welfare and education system during the state of emergency. Specifically, the bill requires: DCF to report monthly to the Legislature on changes in child abuse and neglect cases; DCF to implement a public information campaign to improve awareness of child abuse and neglect during the public health crisis; DCF to report on efforts to support the foster care system; DCF to analyze the effect on virtual and video technology on services during COVID-19; Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to work with DCF to provide an analysis of active remote learning participation rates during the COVID-19 crisis, including participation rates of children with open DCF cases; and DESE to coordinate with DCF to develop a statewide plan to ensure effective and ongoing engagement relative to remote learning, including guidance and best practices for engaging the most vulnerable and at-risk students and families.
•Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights.
•Strengthening the Integrity of the Office of the Child Advocate.
•Data Reporting Initiative. In response to serious events and concerns about children in DCF care, the Legislature has historically directed DCF to complete various reporting requirements; however, the agency has been unable to fulfill its statutory requirements to complete all reports. This bill updates and streamlines DCF reporting requirements to ensure the delivery of timely and relevant data in both a comprehensive annual report and robust quarterly reports. In addition, DCF is required to detail actions it has taken to provide culturally competent services to children and families and report on transition planning, fair hearings, reports made to the Ombudsman, and a detailed accounting of services provided through contracted agencies.
The bill now moves to the Senate.