The Associated Press

Report: Mass. Seeks Custody Of More Children

BOSTON — The number of children being removed from their homes by the state’s child welfare agency has jumped dramatically since a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy whose family was being monitored by the state went missing, but that doesn’t mean the agency is doing a better job, child advocates said.

From December through May, the Department of Children and Families filed nearly 2,000 court petitions to gain custody of children they determined to be at risk of abuse or neglect, a 52 percent increase from the previous year, according to court statistics. Last month, the agency filed 365 such petitions, a 70 percent jump from May 2013.

The move is an overreaction that will needlessly send more children into foster care, child advocates said.

“It’s symptomatic of an agency that is continuing to struggle,” Marylou Sudders, associate professor at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, told The Boston Globe. “You have line workers who, if there is any question, are going to default to the side of filing” for custody.

The Fitchburg boy, Jeremiah Oliver, was reported missing in December after his family had not seen him in several months. His body was found in April. His mother and her boyfriend have been charged in connection with his disappearance, but no one has been charged with his death. Three agency workers were fired and the commissioner eventually stepped down.

Peter MacKinnon, president of the union that represents the state’s child welfare workers, said there is an “an atmosphere of extreme fear” in the agency and “No one wants to have the next Jeremiah Oliver on their caseload.”

The agency in a statement said periods of “hypervigilance” typically follow high-profile cases.

“When an allegation of abuse or neglect comes to the department’s attention, we engage in a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure a course of action that is in the best interest of the child,” the statement said.

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  • Sarahdeo

    I am an attorney who accepts court appointed care and protection cases. It’s gotten so bad that many of us can no longer accept cases because we have reached our hourly cap. (As court appointed workers, statutorily we can only bill so many hours per year. The fiscal year ends on June 30.) Many clients (parents and children) aren’t being appointed an attorney in a timely manner because there are very few lawyers available.

    I represent both parents and children. Many of the children I represent are now being put in foster homes that are over capacity or homes that don’t actually care about the kids. When I tell a case worker that I don’t like the foster home for the kid or that the home is over capacity, they tell me the foster homes have “minimum standards” that they’ve met. It’s clear that there are a lot of foster homes taking in kids for the money and not for the sake of providing these kids with a loving home.

    Additionally, DCF regulations state that parents have the right to visit a child and many offices now have parents seeing their children one hour per month as a default visitation plan even though DCF Reg. 86-011 states that “the schedule of child-family visitation should… provide the opportunity for contact between the child and parent to occur as frequently as once a week or once every other week.” Why don’t they? Not enough space at DCF for supervised visits, not enough case workers to supervise the visits. This traumatizes children – they think their parents have abandoned them.

    I will readily admit that many of these children need care and protection, but I’m not convinced taking them from their primary care-taker and putting them a foster home is the best way to care for these kids.

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