House approves new DCF accountability, child welfare bill

The House has approved new legislation to increase accountability at DCF, protect vulnerable children and families, and enhance data collection and reporting. Here is a summary of the bill courtesy of Rep. Denise Garlick.

Bill Summary H.4841 — An Act Relative to Accountability for Vulnerable Children and Families

Quality Improvement. This bill requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to create or update specific case management policies to improve agency operations and safeguard children in care.

  • Reunification Reviews
    • Requires DCF to establish a formal internal review policy that creates a managerial review process prior to a decision to reunify children.
  • Collateral Checks
    • Requires human services programs receiving state funding, through Chapter 257 or MassHealth, to respond to DCF caseworkers conducting a collateral check within 5 business days.
  • Case Transfers
    • Requires DCF to review policies, procedures, and rules to improve protocol for complex cases involving multiple social workers and area offices. It requires this review to be conducted in consultation with the Child Advocate and to be reported to the Legislature.
  • Attorney Notification of Change in Placement
    • Requires DCF to notify a child or young adult’s attorney of changes in placement or if the child or young adult is involved in a 51A report.

Foster Parents. This bill establishes a foster parents’ bill of rights to provide a clear articulation of rights and responsibilities that will be a helpful tool to retain and recruit foster parents.

  • Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights
    • Prevents discrimination of foster parents and requires DCF to keep information about foster parents confidential.
    • Requires training to be part of the onboarding process.
    • Provides foster parents with basic information regarding the foster child.
    • Requires DCF to provide notification and basic information regarding hearings, complaints process, and financial eligibility.
    • Allows for the opportunity for foster parents, as part of the offboarding process, to share information on a child that could assist the child’s future foster parent or adoptive parent with the child’s everyday routine.

Strengthening the Integrity of the Child Advocate. This bill requires the child advocate to present the findings of critical incident reports that result in the death of a child due to a reasonable belief that a state agency failed in its duty to protect a child to the governor, attorney general, speaker of the house, and senate president jointly and simultaneously at least 48 hours before the results of the report are released.

This bill transfers the child fatality review team from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to the Office of the Child Advocate.

Data Reporting. The Department of Children and Families is required to report on key data and metrics throughout the General Laws and in the annual General Appropriations Act. This bill consolidates all department reporting requirements into one section of the General Laws. It repeals instances of these reports throughout the General Laws and FY20 budget so the new reports, including annual reports and quarterly profiles, can be issued with this data and information.

This bill requires DCF to notify the Legislature of new regulations or if any report is not submitted by the deadline.

Reporting requirements include:

  • Annual report
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 that provides an overview of the department’s performance during the previous fiscal year.
  • Quarterly profile
    • Requires a quarterly profile to be submitted within 45 days after the end of each fiscal quarter that includes departmental, regional office, and area office data.
  • Transition planning for children in foster care
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 on the outcomes of children and young adults leaving or aging out of DCF care and custody, including demographics, counts, and whether they have secured housing, employment, and post-secondary education.
  • Fair hearing processes and cases
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 on DCF’s fair hearing process and cases. This language is generally included in 4800-0015 of the General Appropriations Act.
  • Office of the Ombudsman
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by October 31 on the questions and concerns received by the Department’s Ombudsman.
  • Services provided through contracted agencies
    • Requires an annual report to be submitted by November 30 summarizing the services provided, the number of clients served, and the amount spent by the Department on contracted services.

Measuring the Impact of COVID-19. This bill requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report on and analyze various aspects of the child welfare and education system to understand the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children.

  • Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
    • Requires DCF to report monthly, for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, on changes in child abuse and neglect reports made pursuant to section 51A of chapter 119.
    • Requires DCF to develop and implement a public information campaign to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Foster Care
    • Requires DCF to report on its efforts to support and reform the foster care system in the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Virtual Services
    • Requires DCF to analyze the effect of virtual and video technology on services during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Remote Learning
    • Requires school districts to report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on the number of students who did not participate in any form of remote learning that went into effect in the 2020 school year due to the COVID-19 crisis, including the number of students with an open DCF case. Requires DESE to share findings and analysis of district reporting on remote learning efforts.
    • Requires DESE to develop a statewide plan to ensure effective and ongoing engagement relative to remote learning, including best practices for engaging the most vulnerable and at-risk students and their families, including but not limited to:
      • Children with active DCF cases;
      • Students and families with limited English proficiency;
      • Students with limited access to remote learning;
      • Students receiving special education services; and
      • Students residing in school districts in communities that were disproportionately impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19.