SECTION 1. Subsection (c) of section 23 of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out the second paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following 2 paragraphs:-
The department shall seek to identify any minor sibling or half-sibling of the child. The department and the court shall ensure that siblings removed from their home and placed in the department’s care, custody or responsibility are placed in the same foster care, kinship guardianship or adoptive placement with all siblings and half-siblings unless the department makes a showing to the court by clear and convincing evidence that a joint- placement is contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings; provided further, that the court shall make written findings in support of its decision to deny the joint placement. In the case of siblings removed from their home who are not jointly placed, the department shall provide for frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction between the siblings, unless the department makes a showing to the court by clear and convincing evidence that frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction is contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings; provided further, that the court shall make written findings in support of its decision to deny the frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction. Notwithstanding any provision of this section, the department may separate a child from siblings or half-siblings to avoid immediate risk of harm to any child; provided, however, that if the department does separate a child from a sibling or half-sibling without prior court approval, it shall file a petition for court approval of its placement decision within 1 business day after the placement and provide notice to all counsel in any proceeding held pursuant to this chapter. The court shall hold a hearing regarding the placement change within 7 days of filing the petition. The department shall bear the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence at the hearing that the best interests of 1 or more of the siblings requires a separate placement. Any child who is placed apart from any sibling or half-sibling, even if placed with other siblings or half-siblings, may ask the court to review its decision authorizing a separate placement. The department shall bear the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of at least 1 sibling to continue in a separate placement.
If the court authorizes the department to place siblings or half-siblings in separate placements, the department shall make ongoing efforts to remedy any concerns found by the department that led to the separate placements. The department shall document its efforts in the case plan. Notwithstanding the definition of “custody” in section 21, 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.
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