Representative Sean Garballey, member of the Foster Care Coalition, joined House Speaker Sal Dimasi, Senate President Therese Murray and others at a press conference today to announce the unanimous passage of An Act Protecting Children in the Care of the Commonwealth.
Highlights of the bill include:
Creates the Office of the Child Advocate
· The Child Advocate is appointed by the Governor and reports directly to him.
· Receives notice of any serious injury to a child in the care of the commonwealth and has the power to conduct an independent investigation, including subpoena powers.
· Receives complaints from the general public and children in the care of the commonwealth and may ensure resolution by the appropriate agency or may conduct an investigation.
· Monitors the treatment and services provided to all children in the care of the Commonwealth to ensure that each child receives humane and dignified assistance.
· Examines the entire system of care and services to children provided by executive agencies to evaluate for effectiveness and efficiency, as well as assessing possibilities for improvement.
· Works with a 25-member advisory board to create a 5 year plan to ensure a coordinated, system-wide response to child abuse and neglect.
· Responsible for educating the public and advising the administration and the legislature regarding the services of the office and the mission of the agencies serving children.
New mandates to protect against Abuse and Neglect
- Three abuse and neglect reports on a family in 3 months or in 1 year mandates review by area or regional DCF review boards; the commissioner of DCF reports results to DA, local law enforcement and the child advocate.
- Mandated reporters may choose to contact the local police if they see any suspected abuse or neglect in addition to contacting DCF.
- All mandated reporters will be required to receive training on how to recognize and respond to abuse and neglect.
- Increased penalties for mandated reporters who fail to report suspected abuse or neglect ($5,000 or 2.5 years jail or both and upon guilty finding report to a professional licensing authority).
- Requires the District Attorneys to report on the outcomes of abuse and neglect cases referred to them.
- Mandates DCF not to close any abuse or neglect case until they receive the physical evidence results from the state lab.
- Prohibits the appointing, as a child’s guardian, any person being investigated for assault and battery on the child.
- Makes it a crime for an adult to harbor a runaway child for any reason other than to protect the child from abuse.
- Creates a Grandparents Commission to address the fastest growing group of relative caretakers. The Commission will advise state agencies and recommend policies to legislators on issues around kinship care.
- Improves the procedure for grandparents and siblings to pursue their rights to seek visitation with children in care
- Creates a Foster Care Provider registry.
- Mandates that EOPPS and DCF formulate a plan to care for children whose parents or guardians are arrested.
- Expands upon the current tuition payments for children in care of the commonwealth to include the fees at all state colleges and community college.
- Requires DCF to make recruitment of foster parents a priority and reach out to the public to increase participation.
- Expands the reporting by DCF on residential foster care, incidents of abuse and neglect, racial disparities, and the status of children ‘aging out’.
- Mandates that all children who are entering the foster care system receive physical and mental health screening.
- Charges the DCF statewide advisory council with increasing the recruitment of medical professionals.
- Allows children who are aging out of the foster care system to return to DCF until they are 22. DCF reports annually to the legislature the number and reasons when it is unable to help these children.
Other Major Points
- Changes the name of the Department of Social Services to the Department of Children and Families.
- Establishes an interagency child welfare taskforce that the Secretary of EOHHS will chair in order to coordinate and streamline services to children and families who are receiving services from any agency in EOHHS.
- Requires social workers who are employed by DCF to have a bachelor’s degree and supervisors to have a master’s degree.