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Baker-Polito Administration, union announce changes in wake of death of Fall River’s David Almond

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BOSTON — The Baker-Polito Administration and SEIU Local 509 today announced a targeted set of initiatives to address issues facing children, youth, and families served by the Department of Children and Families and identified by the Office of the Child Advocate.

According to a release, the plan includes updates to critical social work policy, increased availability of specialized staff, increased staff training and core competencies, fostering increased collaboration with providers, and improving case review and risk assessment processes. The reforms are focused on the key themes and issues of “clinical formulation” including use of risk and safety tools, case communication and collaboration, the unique vulnerabilities and needs of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and keeping children visible in the community through timely information sharing.

As of FY21, the Department of Children and Families has received $269 M in new funding: a 33% increase from the prior administration’s final budget. 100% of social workers are licensed and caseloads are at historic lows, according to the Administration.

“The work of child welfare is always evolving – and strengthening the Department of Children and Families requires sustained focus and investment,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “We will continue to support intentional reforms of the Department of Children and Families, build our social worker capacity and skillsets, and reach out and strengthen our efforts with partners in state agencies and the community so that we can all meet our shared mandate of protecting children.”

“Our union – and the 3,500 DCF social workers we represent – are fully committed to these reforms that will enhance our clinical skills and address issues of inequity at the Department of Children and Families,” said Peter MacKinnon, President of SEIU Local 509. “By design, DCF is the safety net agency for our most at-risk children. As social workers, we know effective clinical decision-making is best done as a team. These reforms strengthen our partnerships and improve communication with the wrap-around services for the children entrusted in our care.”

The recent report from the Office of the Child Advocate following the death of David Almond identified urgent areas for improvement at the Department as well as highlighting the need for additional reforms to build out the agency’s infrastructure and policies in certain areas, so that social workers can better keep children safe. Of the 26 specific recommendations contained in the report, 9 are specific to DCF and 4 are specific to DCF in coordination with other state agencies. Stemming from these recommendations, the Department of Children and Families and SEIU Local 509 have stated that they will implement the following changes:

-Revise the Supervision Policy and offer improved training from qualified instructors. This will include developing a menu of required training with specific professional development including child safety and risk assessment, parental capacity clinical assessment, and the impact of substance use disorders and intellectual/developmental disabilities on child welfare practice, and more.

-Revise the Ongoing Casework and Documentation Policy to closely track social workers’ interactions with collateral contacts. DCF and SEIU are revising the Ongoing Casework and Documentation Policy, which governs day to day social work practice, to improve case documentation, strengthen connections with collateral contacts, and overall support better clinical decision making.

-Increase the availability of substance abuse consultation services. As communities continues to deal with the impact of substance use, especially in low income communities, DCF and SEIU will increase substance use consultation services available to case workers.

-Establish a new statewide Disabilities Director position and disabilities specialists. Staff will have access to experts with a thorough understanding of the complex dynamics of high-risk families where children are especially vulnerable, and will receive case consultation focusing on the intersection of disabilities, child protection and permanency, for parent/caretaker and child.

-Create a discreet case review and consultation process for social workers and/or supervisors whose clinical recommendations have been overruled by a manager or where there is a lack of agreement. DCF and SEIU will create a confidential mechanism by which a social worker or other staff can signal if there is a concern with case practice that is not being addressed appropriately.

-Develop a reunification policy that assesses safety and risk of a child using a research based or analytical based actuarial tool. DCF and SEIU will develop a policy that guides the reunification with parents, which will include a nationally recognized, research based actuarial risk assessment tool. A clear transition plan will be required leading up to reunification, and will be followed by a post-reunification review.

-Ensure that service providers who work with the family have their voices heard in DCF decision-making. DCF and SEIU will develop clear guidance regarding participation of community providers in case decision making that creates a process for gathering and escalating concerns. This will be supported by the development of a mechanism to capture provider input in iFamilyNet.

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