Child Welfare Advocates Call for Data and Action on Urgent Needs of Youth and Families Involved with MA DCF
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, child welfare organizations call for transparent data, improved services, and greater accountability from MA Department of Children and Families
Boston, June 8, 2020 – The Massachusetts Child Welfare / COVID-19 Coalition, consisting of 11 legal aid, children, youth and family advocacy groups, human rights organizations and others, is calling on the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) to act urgently and transparently to address gaps in the system which are putting children and families at increased risk during the pandemic.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the lives of the children, youth and families already in DCF’s caseload is largely missing in the public conversation on child welfare amid this crisis,” said Susan Elsen of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “While headlines have speculated on the meaning of a drop in reports of potential new cases to DCF, there are children and families already in the system who need our urgent attention.”
Two concerns are particularly urgent: (1) DCF’s inadequate reporting of data on rates of COVID-19 infection for children in group care and foster care settings and (2) the lack of action to support older teens who are aging out of the system.
June Ameen of Friends of Children said, “The Administration declared a state of emergency on March 10, and it took until May 22 to get very basic data from DCF. How are advocates, policymakers and the public going to understand the impact of the pandemic on children and youth in the care and custody of the state and ensure DCF and the child welfare system are meeting their needs without reliable and timely data and information?”
Another vulnerable population is older teens who are transitioning out of DCF custody, especially during the pandemic. “In this crisis when housing instability presents extreme risk, it is so important that DCF not close cases of adolescents, that it ensure older teens know they can continue to receive services until age 23, and that DCF makes it easier for youth to sign back in to voluntary services after they turn 18,” said Sana Fadel of Citizens for Juvenile Justice. On May 11, 2020, the Coalition wrote to Governor Baker asking for comprehensive action to support transition-age youth to ensure that these youth are not pushed into homelessness during the pandemic. To date, the Baker Administration has not responded.
The Coalition aims to highlight the urgent needs and vulnerabilities of DCF-involved children and youth. There are more than 10,000 children and young adults currently in the custody of DCF and over 35,000 additional children and young adults involved with the child welfare system (DCF Q2 Quarterly Report).
The Coalition is urging action on several critical issues, including:
Transparent COVID-19 crisis data reporting and accountability
A moratorium on case closures and ongoing support for transition-age youth
Meaningful visitation between children, parents and siblings
Placement stability and the well-being of children in foster care and group homes
Access to technology for children and families to ensure access to education and ongoing contact
Continued progress on ongoing cases, including reunifications
“Critical pieces of the DCF system were not working well before this pandemic,” said Jodi Rosenbaum of More than Words, “The Massachusetts Child Welfare / COVID-19 Coalition stands ready to work with DCF and the Commonwealth to take action on the critical emergency needs we are seeing from our clients in this crisis as well as to address system-wide gaps to improve the long-term well-being of children and families.”
The Massachusetts Child Welfare / COVID-19 Coalition is comprised of the following organizations: Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, Disability Law Center, Freitas & Freitas LLP, Friends of Children, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Greater Boston Legal Services, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, and More Than Words. Visit www.masslegalservices.org/MACWCoalition.