The Baker administration and leaders of the social workers union on Tuesday announced reforms to improve the foster care process and increase staffing in the state’s overburdened child welfare system.
Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters that his office has been working with SEIU Local 509 since 2015 to address what he called a history of neglect at the Department of Children and Families, including a story of a child under DCF supervision who was found dead in 2013.
Over the past five years, DCF’s budget has grown by $190 million and it's added 600 staff members, Baker said, but the agency’s foster care policy has remained unchanged since 2008.
He added that the reforms would seek to increase the number of foster homes, as well as provide sustainable support for foster parents and social workers.
“Over the course of the past five years, we’ve updated many policies at DCF in collaboration with the social workers and the union they represent,” Baker said. “This is one more policy that we’re going to update.”
Officials say the number of children in foster care has risen by 20% over the past five years. While the state has added over 300 foster homes since January 2017, child welfare officials say they need more.
As part of the reforms announced Tuesday, DCF will hire 11 additional foster care recruiters, bringing the total to 29, and launch a new phase of its foster care recruitment campaign. DCF will also expand a pilot program in which a social worker will look to place foster children in homes with relatives.
Baker also said the policy will call for modernized after-hours communication systems for both foster parents and social workers. He added that privacy concerns caused delays in rolling out the process, but state and union leaders found an appropriate vendor who could implement the system this fall.
“I don't think we'll ever get to point that we shouldn't be recruiting foster parents,” said Mary McGeown, executive director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “We should always be recruiting foster parents and making sure we have individuals in the pipeline who are prepared to step up and take care of these kids.”
McGeown said some people become foster parents for decades, while others open their homes for a few years, causing the number of available homes to constantly shift. She hopes the reforms, especially the new online communication system, will address issues like staffing shortfalls and support needs for families in the system.
“Like the rest of us, [foster parents] communicate online,” said McGeown. “They need access to the information about their child. They need to know that they can get in touch with people quickly. They want to be able to lean on someone else, like a mentor.”
The governor said he is not concerned about funding, citing the increased budget.
“I think the question with respect to money will get dealt with as we go through this process,” Baker said. “We continue to make invests, and if it turns out that we need additional ones, we will.”
This article was originally published on May 14, 2019.