BOSTON – The Baker-Polito Administration and SEIU Local 509 today announced major reforms at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to improve the lives and stability of children and youth that are served by DCF. The new series of reforms, some of which are currently underway or have been implemented, will further address the needs of children who have been removed from their biological families as a result of abuse or neglect.
Over the past five years, the number of children in foster care has risen 20 percent, and while the Commonwealth has added over 300 foster homes since January 2017 there is a need for more homes. The proposed reforms will focus on the retention and recruitment of foster parents and provide relief for social workers working in an overburdened system.
Since 2015, the Baker-Polito Administration, in collaboration with the union representing front-line social work staff, has collaborated on a series of reforms at DCF to address a history of neglect at the agency. As a result of that partnership and Legislative support, DCF funding has increased by $190 million; the agency has added more than 600 new staff including more than 300 front line social workers; nearly every social worker is licensed; caseloads have been reduced significantly; and several critical social work policies have been implemented or revised. The next phase of reforms builds on the progress made and addresses new concerns within the agency.
“Since 2015, our administration has worked collaboratively with the union to strengthen the Department of Children and Families with the paramount mission to keep kids safe,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “As we continue to stabilize and rebuild the department through critical investments and improved services for social workers and families, I am pleased to join SEIU Local 509 to announce this next phase that focuses specifically on foster care and permanency.”
“Every child in our Commonwealth deserves a loving family and a safe place to call home. These reforms will provide the resources our social workers need to ensure foster children and their families are getting the support they deserve,” said Adriana Zwick, DCF Chapter President of SEIU 509. “We are grateful to the Baker Administration for hearing our members’ concerns and putting kids first.”
“Making deep, systemic changes not only takes time – but the ability to be nimble. The work of DCF is ever-evolving, and these reforms tackle a growing need for the social workers and foster parents operating in an overburdened foster care system,” said Peter MacKinnon, President of SEIU 509. “Four years ago, we promised reform at the agency – I’m glad to see we are keeping up that promise.”
The reforms target six key areas to support children and foster families involved with DCF:
· Revising DCF’s foster care policy and practice;
· Continuing to increase and retain the number of quality foster homes;
· Increasing support for and communication with foster parents;
· Expanding short term child care for children and youth;
· Modernizing DCF’s Information Technology systems to ensure social workers have real time information; and
· Strengthening behavioral health access and in-home supports.
“Child welfare is and will always be a work in progress, and DCF has made notable strides since 2015 to ensure that children are protected,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “In this next phase of reform, we will continue our work in collaboration with SEIU Local 509 to provide front line social workers with the resources and tools they need to effectively support children in the foster care system and continue to grow and support the foster parent community.”
DCF’s mission is first and foremost to protect children from abuse and neglect. At any given time, DCF provides services and supports to approximately 45,000 children under the age of 18 and their families in the Commonwealth. Approximately 80 percent of the children DCF serves live at home. The remaining 20 percent are placed in foster care.
“Addressing longstanding issues purposefully while prioritizing the core fundamentals of child safety has proven to be the right strategy as the department strives to make sustainable systems and cultural changes,” said DCF Commissioner Linda S. Spears. “Although these initiatives may originate in a particular office or unit, it takes a combined effort to put them into action and I am grateful to SEIU Local 509 and staff across the agency for their hard work and shared mission to consistently do our very best for children.”
Details on Second Phase Reforms:
Revising DCF’s foster care policy in partnership with SEIU Local 509. The DCF foster care policy was last updated in 2008. In partnership with SEIU Local 509, DCF will begin analyzing the current workflow for social workers who work directly with foster families in order to expedite the process by which new foster homes and kinship (relative) homes are on boarded into the foster care system to inform the policy revisions. Implementation will commence on January 1, 2020. Beginning in July 2019, DCF will also increase the number of social workers who work directly with foster families at select DCF offices which are identified as offices in need of additional support by SEIU Local 509.
Continuing to increase and retain the number of quality foster homes. Since January 2017, DCF has experienced a net gain of more than 300 foster homes statewide as a result of hiring 18 dedicated foster care recruiters. The Administration has acknowledged that more foster homes are needed. As part of the second phase of reforms, DCF will hire an additional 11 foster care recruiters, bringing the total to 29, one for each area office; and launch a new phase of its foster care recruitment campaign, FosterMA. DCF will also expand a kinship pilot program which began in three DCF offices in 2017 and expanded to five offices in 2018. The pilot designates one social worker to identify kinship placements for children immediately upon home removal. As a result of the pilot, kinship placements have increased by 56% to date. In June 2019, DCF will expand the pilot program to 10 offices.
Increasing support for foster parents. DCF has launched a dedicated intranet for foster parents. Foster parents will be able to communicate and message each other 24 hours a day, contact and pose questions to DCF staff members, and access resources in one centralized location. By July 2019, DCF will also develop trauma-informed foster parent training with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC). Additionally, DCF and SEIU Local 509 will collaborate with the Legislature on the passage of a foster parent bill of rights.
Expanding short term child care. DCF is partnering with the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency responsible for licensed child care, to secure immediate access to child care for children in need of emergency placement. Through the program, licensed childcare providers can immediately accept DCF children on a temporary basis. DCF and SEIU Local 509 are implementing a pilot program in up to 10 offices with the goal of extending the pilot statewide in FY20.
Modernizing DCF’s Information Technology systems to ensure social workers have real time information. DCF is in the process of re-procuring its after-hours hotline system for the first time since 2001. The new procurement will include after-hours placement support for social workers to find emergency placements and will maintain a centralized database of available foster homes after hours and on the weekends so information is available in real time. The procurement is currently underway with implementation expected Fall 2019 when the new contract is executed.
Strengthening behavioral health access* and in-home supports. DCF will begin outreach to foster parents and social workers to identify foster family support needs and prioritize stabilization. DCF will also increase respite access to foster families in partnership with MSPCC. *The Baker-Polito Administration is currently engaged in a broader initiative beyond the scope of DCF to strengthen behavioral health care throughout the Commonwealth and has committed more than $1.9 billion to bolster behavioral health treatment through FY22.