Settling in for a long battle to protect thousands of abused and neglected kids

swingsetEvery time we launch a campaign to reform a foster care system that’s endangering the abused and neglected children who depend on it, we hope the public officials responsible for the system will at least acknowledge the severity and scope of the problems we have called to their attention.

Sadly, that’s not always the case.

Take Massachusetts, for example. Last April, Children’s Rights and attorneys from the Boston law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish filed a class action in federal court on behalf of some 8,500 vulnerable childen statewide, seeking desperately needed improvements to a child welfare system that is utterly failing to protect and properly care for too many of the children in its custody.

Seven months later, the state is refusing to confront the full extent of the dysfunction in its Department of Children and Families.

The Springfield Republican has the story of last week’s hearing before the federal judge overseeing the case, in which state officials argued that the case should simply be thrown out. While they acknowledge the six young children named as plaintiffs in the case have suffered unspeakable abuse and neglect, they say those stories are not typical of children in Massachusetts foster care.

But the facts speak for themselves.

  • Children in Massachusetts foster care suffer abuse and neglect in state-supervised foster homes at a rate four times the national standard — making the state’s record on this measure the fourth worst in the country.
  • One in three children is moved around to five or more different foster homes in a single stint in foster care.
  • Approximately one in six kids reunited with their families returns to foster care because of further abuse or neglect.
  • A quarter of children in state care aren’t getting the medical, dental and mental health services they need.
  • And 900 children age out of foster care every year without permanent families.

While the state has argued that the defendants in the case — Governor Deval Patrick and his administration — haven’t personally engaged in behavior that has contributed to these abuses, there is strong evidence that the Department of Children and Families and state officials have been aware of these serious problems for years without taking action.

The child welfare workers responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of children in Massachusetts foster care are severely overloaded — often assigned to well over 20 families each, and unable to provide the focus and attention that every individual child and family requires. The state’s pool of foster families is shrinking and DCF isn’t doing enough to recruit and retain new ones. Compounding the issue, the state has failed to provide adequate support to existing foster families in the form of day care and other services, and financial support that reflects the real cost of caring for the children they take in.

Fixing the problems we have identified is the responsibility first and foremost of the state’s leaders and its Department of Children and Families. Since they have failed to do so, we are asking the federal court to hold them accountable — and the decision whether to allow the case to proceed is now in the hands of the judge.

On behalf of thousands of children across the state whose safety and well-being hangs in the balance, we will do everything in our power to make sure that Massachusetts lives up to that responsibility — and provides the protection and care that is every child’s right.

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