New Reports Show Massachusetts Failing to Protect Children in Foster Care

Children’s Rights: Thousands of young lives endangered due to lack of oversight within child welfare agency

(Boston, MA) — A massive review of Massachusetts foster care shows that nearly one in five children who have been in state care for at least two years have suffered confirmed abuse or neglect — all while in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), according to one of five reports issued by independent child welfare policy experts and released today by national advocacy group Children’s Rights and local counsel.

“Far too many children in Massachusetts remain at risk of maltreatment even after they enter the protection of the state’s child welfare system,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, founder and executive director of Children’s Rights. “These new reports further underscore the critical need to overhaul DCF as it fails to meet its moral and legal duty to keep kids in foster care safe from further harm.”

A report that reviewed case files of more than 480 children shows that DCF is failing to meet its own policies and performance targets. The findings are consistent with federal studies that rank Massachusetts among the bottom 10 child welfare systems in the United States when it comes to ensuring children are safe in foster care and have stable placements.

Additional reports issued today examined the day-to-day performance of DCF. These in-depth studies show that the state’s foster care system is harming children as a result of systemic dysfunction in several key areas:

“DCF prescribes powerful psychotropic drugs to foster kids while it has not even developed a system to monitor the medical records of children in state care,” said Lowry. “This is just one example of how a lack of oversight within the agency is endangering thousands of young lives while DCF management continues to defend its dysfunctional child welfare system.”

The five experts who conducted the studies have extensive backgrounds in their respective fields of child welfare policy, social work, organizational management and child and adolescent psychiatry. Their independent reports include:

Children’s Rights, with Boston law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, filed the lawsuit known as Connor B. v. Patrick in April 2010, charging DCF with failing to meet constitutional requirements and its legal duty to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its custody by routinely placing them in dangerous and unstable situations once removed from their parents’ care.

The lawsuit asserts that children in Massachusetts suffer abuse in foster care and bounce from one foster home or institution to another at alarming rates. Also, a high percentage languish in foster care for years, and ultimately age out of the system without permanent families or the skills needed to live as independent adults. The lawsuit links these problems to DCF’s failure to effectively manage its workforce, resources, and practices.

On January 4, 2011, U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor rejected Massachusetts officials’ efforts to block abused and neglected children’s access to federal court by denying a motion to dismiss the federal case. Less than two months later, the judge ruled that the lawsuit may proceed as a class action on behalf of the approximately 7,500 abused and neglected children in state custody. A trial is set for January 21, 2013.

The lawsuit filed in 2010 named six children as plaintiffs to represent the class who at the time ranged in ages from 9 to 15 years old and shared a history of harm in DCF custody. They included:

More information about Children’s Rights’ campaign to reform the child welfare system in Massachusetts can be found at the Massachusetts Class Action Page.