SECTION 1. Section 7 of Chapter 18B, is hereby amended by adding at the end thereof the following subsection: -
“(o) The commissioner, in consultation with the child advocate and other agencies the commissioner deems relevant, including, but not limited to, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, and private child service providers shall, if available, adapt, implement and maintain from another state agency or from any suitable program already in use in another state a free standardized online training program to be completed by all mandated reporters as defined in section 21 of chapter 119, and as referenced in section 51A(k) of chapter 119; provided, however, that if the commissioner cannot find an existing program to adapt to this purpose, then the commissioner shall create, implement, maintain and update such an online training program.”
SECTION 2. Chapter 18C of the General Laws, is hereby amended by inserting after section 4 the following section:-
“Section 4A. There shall be a child abuse and neglect expert review panel, hereinafter referred to as the panel, under the purview of the child advocate, who shall serve as chair. The members of the panel shall include: the commissioner of the department of children and families, the executive director of the Children’s Trust Fund, and 4 members selected by the child advocate to include: a medical expert in the field of pediatrics, an infant mental health specialist, a social worker with a minimum of 10 years direct case work experience, and an individual representing parents involved with the Department. The panel shall review the repeated entry of children into the caseload of the department of children and families. Any open or closed cases within a 12 month period for the same child or the same family unit shall constitute repeated entry. The panel shall determine if any actions can be taken to protect the child from further harm or if any agency regulations should be modified. The panel’s review and determinations shall be kept confidential. The panel shall report on any trends that are cycling through families, agency service gaps, and recommendations for policy changes to rectify the repeated abuse and neglect of children as part of the annual report as established in section 10 of this chapter.
The child advocate may convene a public meeting or oversight hearing to discuss any trends in child welfare, gather the public’s input or determine if further actions should be taken to improve the lives of the children in the care and custody of the commonwealth. Any findings shall be included in the annual report as established in section 10 of this chapter.”
SECTION 3. Section 7 of chapter 76 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following paragraph:-
Notwithstanding section 5 of this chapter, any school age child removed from the home of the child’s parents or guardians under chapter 119, sections 23, 24, 25, 26, 39G or 39H and placed in the custody of the department of children and families or another custodian, may continue to attend the school in which the child was enrolled at the time of removal (“the school of origin”). The right to attend the school of origin shall apply to any subsequent placement. If the child’s custodian determines, in consultation with the child and the child’s school, that it is not in the best interest of the child to remain in the school of origin, the child shall be immediately and appropriately enrolled in the new school. The child’s custodian shall promptly notify the child’s attorney and the school of origin of the decision. Where the child’s custodian is the department of children and families, and the department determines that it is in the child’s best interest to enroll the child in a school in the district in which the child is placed, the department shall provide the child’s attorney with written notice of the decision. This notice shall identify the factors that form the basis of the decision. Nothing in this section shall be construed to detract from any other right that a child may have under any other law.
SECTION 4. Section 22 of Chapter 119, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the first paragraph the following paragraph: -
Any foster home licensee who fails to notify the department of a change in household status shall pay the Department a fine of $500. The department shall provide notice of this provision in its Massachusetts approach to partnerships in parenting curriculum.
SECTION 5. Paragraph (7) of subsection (a) of section 23 of Chapter 119, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after subsection clause (i) the following subsection:-
The department shall ensure that the placement of a child in foster care takes into account the appropriateness of the current educational setting and the proximity to the school in which the child is enrolled at the time of each placement; coordinate with the appropriate local educational agencies to ensure that the child remains in the school which the child is enrolled in at the time of each placement; or, if remaining in such school is not in the best interests of the child, ensure that the child is immediately and appropriately enrolled in a new school and that all of the child’s educational records have been provided to the school.”
SECTION 6. Subsection (c) of section 23 of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out the second paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following two paragraphs:-
The department shall also seek to identify any minor sibling or half-sibling of the child. The department and the court shall ensure that children placed in or under the department’s care, custody or responsibility are placed in the same home with all siblings and half-siblings unless the department shows by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of one or more siblings require a separate placement. The court shall make specific findings to support any such best interests finding. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the department may separate a child from one or more siblings or half-siblings to avoid immediate risk of harm to any child. However, if the department does so without prior court approval, it shall file a petition for court approval of its placement decision within one business day thereafter and provide notice to all counsel in any proceeding under this chapter. The court shall hold a hearing regarding such placement change within seven days. The department shall bear the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of one or more siblings require a separate placement. Any child over the age of seven or an agent of the child who is placed apart from any sibling or half-sibling, even if placed with other siblings or half-siblings, may petition the court for a review and redetermination of its decision authorizing a separate placement. The department shall bear the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of one or more siblings continues to require a separate placement.
If the court authorizes the department to place siblings or half-siblings in separate placements, the department shall make ongoing and systemic efforts to remedy any problems that led to the separate placements. The department shall document its efforts in the case plan. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 21 of this chapter, the court may make any order to ensure the joint placement of siblings or half-siblings as may be in the children’s best interests.
SECTION 7. Chapter 119 of the General Laws is further amended by inserting after section 23B the following section:
Section 23C. As used in this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:-
“Department” shall mean the department of children and families.
“Foster youth” shall mean a child under the care or custody of the department of children and families or a young adult who has signed a voluntary placement agreement with the department of children and families.
“Electronic backpack” shall mean an electronic repository of a foster youth’s educational records.
Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, the commissioner of the department, in consultation with the office of the child advocate and the secretary of education, shall develop and implement an “electronic backpack” program for the educational stability of foster youth.
(a) The department shall create an electronic backpack for each foster youth. The department, in conjunction with the executive office of education, shall determine the format of the electronic backpack. The department will consider methods to prevent further stigmatization of the foster youth while determining the format of the electronic backpack. Each electronic backpack must contain educational records of the foster youth, including the names and addresses of educational providers, the foster youth's grade-level performance, and any other educational information the department requires.
(b) The department shall maintain the electronic backpack as part of the department's records for the foster youth as long as the foster youth remains in foster care.
(c) The department shall make the electronic backpack available to:
(1) any person authorized by law to make educational decisions for the foster youth;
(2) any person authorized to consent to medical care for the foster youth; and
(3) any provider of medical care to the foster youth if access to the foster youth's educational information is necessary for the provision of medical care and is not prohibited by law.
(d) The department shall collaborate with the executive office of education to develop policies and procedures to ensure that the needs of foster youths are met in every school district.
SECTION 8. Section 26 of Chapter 119 of the General Laws is hereby amended inserting after section 26C the following section:
Section 26D: As used in this section, the following words shall have the following meanings:-
“Department” shall mean the department of children and families.
(a)The Department shall include as part of its Massachusetts Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAAP) training for foster parents information regarding the prevention of child abuse, prevention of child sexual abuse, and prevention of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The Department shall consult with outside independent experts with demonstrated expertise in child abuse, child sexual abuse, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children when developing this training.
(b) The Department shall include as part of its MAAP training for foster parents information on caring for infants in foster care, including information regarding caring for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome and substance-exposed infants. The Department shall consult with hospitals and nonprofit entities when developing this training.
(c)The Department shall include as part of its MAAP training information for foster parents regarding cultural and racial sensitivity.
(d)The Department shall create a 6-hour online or in-person kinship placement training program for relative caregivers taking care of a foster child, with childcare as needed to complete the training.
(e)The Department shall require that all foster parents and kinship families participate in 6-hours of training annually.
SECTION 9. Section 26 of Chapter 119 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 26D the following section:
Section 26E: The Department shall offer specialized training to Foster Parents or kinship care providers of special needs children whose goal includes permanency through adoption or kinship so that these families are supported in seeking permanency. To address the unique needs and demands in our state at this time this training shall:
(a) Include the impact of foster care, adoption and attachment losses on infants and very young children who are over-represented in our state’s foster care system.
(b) Include the impact of foster care, adoption and attachment losses on children over the age of nine
(c) Provide training from experts from a diversity of backgrounds on the long-term health and well-being of substance exposed newborns, a population uniquely vulnerable to low rates of adoption and who are classified as “Special needs” under current ASFA language.
SECTION 10. Section 26 of Chapter 119 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 26E the following section:-
Section 26F: Every foster parent including any kinship caretaker shall have:
(a) The right to reasonable access to a caseworker who makes the case plan decisions of the children in their care. Reasonable access shall include the social worker and supervisor's office telephone numbers and email addresses as well as, a minimum, monthly visits by social worker;
(b) The right to have access to agency staff for assistance in dealing with emergencies on a 24 hour basis;
(c) The right to be included in scheduled meetings and appointments concerning the child including but not limited to, individual service planning meetings, foster care reviews, individual educational planning meetings and medical appointments;
(d) The right to be provided with training, consultation and assistance in identifying, evaluating and accessing resources and services to meet the foster parent's needs related to the foster parent's role as a foster parent, including, but not limited to, training, consultation and assistance related to improving skills in providing daily care and meeting the needs of the child in foster care, all foster care policies, a foster parent handbook, minimum standards for family foster homes, therapeutic foster care and the mediation procedure;
(e) The right to be involved when appropriate with family members and the right to participate in the development of visitation plans;
(f) The right to access all information on a child, at placement, and on an ongoing basis, that could impact the care provided the child and/or the health and safety of the child and/or foster family members. Information shall include case plan, health/medical, educational, court/legal decisions, and social history as known to the Department, to better meet the needs of children in their care;
(g) The right to be given written notice of all proceedings and hearing pertaining to the child at least 10 days prior to the hearing or proceeding and the right to attend this hearing and be heard
(h) The right to present oral or written evidence addressing the needs, strengths, behavior, and development of the child
(i) The right to accept or refuse a placement within the family foster home and to request with 2 weeks' notice to the department, except in an emergency, the removal of a child from the family foster home for good cause without threat of adverse action by the department. Except in emergencies, the department shall provide a foster parent 2 weeks' notice before a child is removed from the foster parent's care along with a written statement of the reasons for the removal.
(j) A foster parent shall treat all information received from the department and its contractors relating to a foster child in the foster parent's care or the child's birth family as confidential. Information necessary for the medical or psychiatric care of the child may be provided to the appropriate practitioners. A foster parent may share information with school personnel that is necessary in order to secure a safe and appropriate education for the child. A foster parent shall share information known to the foster parent related to concerns that arise in the care of the child with the child's caseworker and other members of the child's treatment team.
(k) If a child reenters the foster care system and is not placed in a relative's home, the department shall give a former foster parent of the child first consideration for placement of the child. The department shall also give a foster parent first consideration for adoption or permanent placement of a child in the foster parent's care if the child becomes available for adoption or for another planned permanent living arrangement.
(l) When making decisions in developing a child’s permanency plan, the Department shall consider the length of time a child has been cared for by a single foster family and the bond between the child and foster family.
(n) A foster parent may file a grievance in response to any violation of this chapter. The department shall develop and maintain a grievance procedure that includes a mediation procedure to be published in a foster parent handbook within one year of the effective date of this chapter. The department shall establish an advisory committee to assist the department in developing and maintaining the grievance procedure.
SECTION 11. Section 26 of the Chapter 119 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 26F the following section:-
Section 26G. A parent whose child is currently involved with the Department shall have the right to reasonable access to a caseworker who makes the case plan decisions of the children in their care. Reasonable access shall include the social worker and supervisor's office telephone numbers and email addresses. A parent shall have the right to access agency staff for assistance in dealing with emergencies on a 24-hour basis.
SECTION 12. Section 51A of chapter 119 is amended by striking out subsection (k), as so appearing, and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
“(k) A mandated reporter shall successfully complete the department’s mandated reporter training by July 1, 2017, and every three years thereafter to recognize and report suspected child abuse and neglect. Beginning on July 1, 2017, any mandated reporter who applies for or renews a professional license shall provide evidence of successful completion of this training. Successful completion of this training may be used towards continuing education unit requirements.”
SECTION 13. Said Chapter 119 is hereby further amended by striking out subsection (g) of section 51B, as so appearing, and inserting in place thereof the following subsection:-
“(g) Each family assessment and service plan must document the involvement of the parents or guardians and children age 7 or older, including children in the custody of the department and their siblings or half-siblings and children placed by a court in the custody or under the guardianship of a relative or other suitable person, in the development of the plan. Such efforts shall include, but not be limited to: (a) encourage the parents or guardian and the children to participate in the development and review of the plan and attempting to obtain the parents’ or guardian’s signatures documenting their review of the plan; (b) obtain information through separate and private conversations from the child and the parents about potential kin or other adults with whom the child or the family has a relationship who could serve as a placement for the child; and (c) if either the parents or child is not involved in the development of the plan, the reasons shall be documented.”
SECTION 14. Section 51F of Chapter 119 of the General laws is hereby amended by inserting after the third paragraph the following:
DCF Background Record Check reports of Central Registry Records on a parent or foster parent consisting exclusively of 51A reports determined to be “invalid”, “unsupported” or by some other designation conclude that the parent or foster parent was not found to be responsible for abuse or neglect of a child, shall be reported to the hiring authority as “no record”. Said report shall be considered a full accounting of the parent or foster parent’s central registry record. Nothing in this section shall prevent the Department from maintaining and using this data in investigating future 51A reports.
SECTION 15: On or before July 1, 2017 the department shall promulgate revise regulations regarding the implementation of the provisions of Chapter 119 Section 29D and Chapter 210, Section 3 (b) to specify that notice of all proceedings and hearings pertaining to the status of the subject child shall be provided to a foster parent, pre-adoptive parent or relative providing care for the child in writing at least ten days prior to said hearing or proceeding to inform the foster parent, pre-adoptive parent or relative of the time and place of the hearing and his right to attend the hearing and to be heard. Said regulations shall allow for the submission of oral or written testimony of the foster parent, pre-adoptive parent or relative providing care for the child addressing the needs, status, development and best interests of the child in his or her care, to be submitted under pains and penalties of perjury, and shall further provide for guidance in preparation of such written and sworn testimony. Nothing herein shall be construed to provide that such foster parent, pre-adoptive parent or relative shall be made a party to the proceeding.
SECTION 16. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, there shall be a commission to study and report on the development of a foster care review system independent of the department of children and families. The commission shall consist of: the commissioner of the department of children and families or a designee; the chief justice of the probate and family court or a designee; the child advocate or a designee; the deputy chief counsel of the committee for public counsel services’ children and family law division or a designee; the chair of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, Inc. or a designee; the Massachusetts Alliance for Families or a designee; the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the house and senate chairs of the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities; and 3 appointees of the governor, 2 of whom shall have expertise in child welfare and one of which is an infant mental health specialist. ) The commission shall research, assess and develop recommendations to implement an independent foster care review system. The commission shall also investigate methods for reducing the number of foster home placements that children in the department’s custody experience. The commission shall hire an independent consultant to conduct the research and assist with the preparation of any recommendations. The commission shall submit a final report of its findings and recommendations, together with drafts of legislation to implement those recommendations, by filing the same with the clerks of the senate and the house on or before December 31, 2018.
SECTION 17. The Massachusetts office for refugees and immigrants shall, in collaboration with the department of children and families, the department of public health, the department of mental health, the department of elementary and secondary education, the department of higher education, and the department of transitional assistance, identify areas in which there is a need for increasing culturally competent services. For the purposes of this act, “culturally competent services” shall mean a department’s ability to provide direct services to a client in the client’s native language, and with an understanding of and sensitivity to the elements of the client’s culture that would affect their parenting and other behaviors relevant to the departments work with them, which shall be provided by a professional with at least 2 years of experience working with a population culturally similar to that of the client.
In order to assess the need for increasing culturally competent services, the Massachusetts office for refugees and immigrants shall: (1) obtain all existing data and information from the departments identified in section 1 regarding any culturally competent services the departments currently provide; and (2) collect population data for each municipality in the commonwealth, which shall identify, for each municipality, any ethnic groups that make up at least 2% of the municipality’s population, the language or languages spoken by each such ethnic group, the country of origin of each such ethnic group, and the estimated total population of each such ethnic group.
The Massachusetts office for refugees and immigrants shall submit a report on the information collected pursuant to this act, which shall identify areas in need of culturally competent services and recommendations for improving access to culturally competent services, together with drafts of legislation or regulations necessary to carry those recommendations into effect, by filing the same with the governor, and the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives not later than March 31, 2016. The clerks of the senate and the house of representatives shall forward the report to the president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives.
SECTION 18. The Department shall establish a pilot program shall to aid independent youth aging out of foster care as they transition from foster kids to independent adults. This pilot program may include the following:
(a) An in-person peer-mentoring pilot program in which youths aging out of the foster care are matched with matched with volunteer community mentors who have successfully transitioned out of foster care in the past to discuss the opportunities and challenges of aging out of care, including discussions about employment, housing, transportation, and other support. The Department shall establish background check standards and training for peer-mentors.
(b) An E-Mentoring pilot program to be conducted online, over the internet, or through the use of mobile applications for the purposes of connecting foster youth with a mentor who may provide advice about independent living such as skills to maintain employment, affordable housing, transportation, and other support.
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