Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Senate Republican Caucus Succeeds in Securing DCF Reform in FY’15 State Budget; Measure Aims to Protect Children Under Agency’s Watch

Seeking to address deep concerns regarding those who come into contact with children through the Department of Children and Families (DCF), Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Senate Minority Whip Donald Humason (R-Westfield), and Senator Richard Ross (R-Wrentham), the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, sought and secured a critical amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget that will provide an important safeguard in protecting the welfare of children within the state’s child welfare system.  The DCF amendment will require the agency to properly vet the backgrounds of household members of potential foster and adoptive homes for child placement.  In doing so, the measure will provide another level of protection for the children currently within the Massachusetts child welfare system.

“Sadly, over the past year we have witnessed the systemic failures of the Department of Children and Families, and the tragic results of those failures,” said Senator Tarr.  “Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of its citizens, and this amendment will provide a powerful tool to prevent children and families involved with DCF from coming into contact with those who could harm them.”

Current law requires the Department of Children and Families to conduct background record checks (BRCs) of all adult household members where a foster child has been placed; however, the law falls short of those under the age of 18.  This amendment rectifies that oversight and will provide greater safeguards to protect the more than 7,000 children currently receiving foster care.  The amendment will require DCF to conduct CORI checks on all household members of a foster or adoptive home over the age of 15.

“We’ve witnessed the Department of Children and Families fail to fulfill its mission time and time again and, every time, the consequences have been devastating,” said Senator Hedlund. “I’m proud to have helped secure this amendment as it represents a step in the direction of true reform. There is still work to be done and we cannot stop fighting until every child in the Commonwealth receives the protection they need and deserve.”

In March, Auditor Suzanne Bump released her findings of a recent audit of the agency.  The Auditor’s report stated that “DCF does not have adequate documentation to substantiate that it has conducted all required BRCs on individuals living in some of its foster homes.  Therefore, DCF cannot substantiate that these BRCs were performed before DCF placed children in foster homes.”  Additionally, the audit cross checked Level 2 and Level 3 registered sex offenders to the addresses of children receiving services from DCF over a 27-month period, and found 25 address matches.

“This amendment aims to increase oversight and transparency in the Department of Children and Families, so that our citizenry no longer feel the tragic effects of the agency’s shortcomings,” said Senator Ross. “Our children are too important and this amendment is a step forward in raising accountability, addressing deficiencies, and better protecting those that the DCF cares for.”

“The health and safety of our children is paramount; DCF has to be more accountable with criminal background checks,” said Senator Humason.