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HOUSE DOCKET, NO.                 FILED ON: 7/31/2014

HOUSE  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  No. 4382

 

 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

 

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In the Year Two Thousand Fourteen

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An Act relative to children in the care, protection, and custody of the Commonwealth.

 

              Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
 

                            SECTION 1 Chapter 6 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in its entirety section 215 and inserting in place thereof the following new section: -

              (a) There shall be an interagency child welfare task force, hereinafter called the task force. The secretary of health and human services or his designee and the child advocate shall serve as its co-chairs. The task force members shall include the designees of the department of children and families; the department of youth services; the department of transitional assistance; the department of mental health; the department of developmental services; the department of public health; the department of elementary and secondary education; the department of early education and care; the office of medicaid; the executive office of public safety and security; the executive office of labor and workforce development; the division of insurance; the department of housing and community development; the juvenile court; the department of probation, the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative; the Children’s Trust; the Office of the Child Advocate; the Family and Probate Court; the Committee for Public Counsel Services; seven members appointed by the governor including a parent of a youth formerly in the care of the commonwealth; a youth formerly in the care of the commonwealth; a foster parent; a direct line social worker selected from a list of 6 applicants selected by the statewide advisory council; a child welfare advocate who is not under contract with any of the member agencies; and 2 members from provider agencies who offer services to children in the care of DCF to include one agency that provides family stabilization and support services to keep children safely at home and one that provides foster care.

              (b) The task force may seek advice broadly from consumers and individuals with expertise in child welfare and child development including but not limited to social workers of the department of children and families, medical and mental health practitioners, community based service providers, child welfare advocates including advocates who are not under contract with the department, foster parents and academic institutions. Said consumers and experts may also be asked to serve on any subcommittees of the task force which may be established.

              (c) The task force shall formulate a comprehensive plan, with annual interagency goals, periodic benchmarks and cost estimates, to recommend coordinated, system-wide strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect, including but not limited to those related to mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and juvenile justice issues.  The comprehensive plan shall look forward 5 years or more, shall be updated annually to plan for the ensuing 5-year period, shall assess previous efforts and, if appropriate, shall include legislative and regulatory recommendations.

              (d) The comprehensive plan shall be filed annually with the governor, the clerks of the senate and the house, the senate and house committees on ways and means, and the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities.

              (e) The comprehensive plan shall include an inventory of the services available in the Commonwealth to address issues that put children at risk of abuse and neglect, identify gaps in such services, and formulate an interagency plan for addressing those gaps in services.. The purpose of this plan shall be to ensure that, to the extent possible, the Commonwealth’s agencies work in coordination to prevent child abuse and neglect before children and families need to enter the DCF system and to prevent the need for out-of-home placements.

              In furtherance of its mission, the task force:

              (1)              shall implement a procedure for children’s impact statements in which, before a change in eligibility for or a reduction in services that may prevent abuse and neglect is implemented, the agency whose services would be restricted or reduced would be required to issue a children’s impact statement projecting the impact on child safety, and on DCF’s caseload, as a result of such reduction in services; and 

              (2)               may examine the status of and address other issues related to child welfare.

                            SECTION 2. Section 2 of chapter 18B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “activities”, in line 15, the following words:- “, including, but not limited to, the opportunity for foster children to participate in: school based sports, arts, music or theater groups or any other extra-curricular school based activity, and social or educational activities offered through community-based programs”.

                            SECTION 3. Said section 2 of said chapter 18B is hereby further amended by inserting after the word “services”, in line 24, the following words:- “, with priority for camping services being given to those families without the means to send children to camp and children whose past trauma suggests they would most benefit from camping services”.

                            SECTION 4. Said section 2 of said chapter 18B is hereby further amended by striking out, in line 31, the word “; and”.

                            SECTION 5. Said section 2 of said chapter 18B is hereby further amended by striking out, in line 33, the word:- “.” and inserting in place thereof the following:- “ (18) online materials through the department’s website to provide foster parents with the knowledge and skills needed to care for children in foster care who have experienced trauma; (19) culturally competent supportive services for pre-adoptive and adoptive families to ensure success of permanency, including, subject to appropriation, allowing the continuation of services provided from multiple agencies to occur simultaneously.”

                            SECTION 6. Section 7 of said chapter 18B, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by adding at the end thereof the following 3 subsections:-

                           (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 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.

                            (p) The commissioner of the department of elementary and secondary education, in consultation with office of the child advocate and the department of children and families, shall develop a statewide plan for the educational stability of children placed in the care or custody of the department of children and families and young adults who have signed voluntary placement agreements with the department of children and families. The plan shall at a minimum include: (i) a procedure to allow foster children to continue their education in the school they were enrolled in before entering foster care for the remainder of the current school year if such placement is determined to be in their best interest; (ii) a process to minimize the loss of learning time due to changing schools during the academic year; (iii) a procedure for transferring academic and other records expediently when a foster child is placed in a new school; (iv) a process for designating foster care education liaisons to facilitate placement, records transfer, calculation of credits earned, and other transition issues for foster children; (v) a process for determining federal, state and local funding sources for transportation of students to their school of origin; (vi) an assurance that children in care attend school on a regular basis as required by law; (vii) recommendations for administration and legislative actions, including, but not limited to, legislation that requires local school districts to adhere to different residency requirements for relocated foster children; (viii) an assurance that the department of elementary and secondary education will coordinate with the appropriate local educational authority to identify how the child could remain in the educational settings in which the child was enrolled at the time of placement or, if it is determined that it is not in the child's best interest to remain in that setting, the local educational authority shall immediately enroll the child in another educational setting during the child's placement and the department of elementary and secondary education shall ensure that the child's educational records are transferred to the new educational setting.

                            Not later than 12 months after the effective date of this act, the plan shall be filed with the clerks of the house of representatives and senate, the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, the joint committee on education, and the house and senate committees on ways and means.

                            SECTION 7. Chapter 18C of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after section 4 the following section:-

                           Section A. 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 2 members selected by the child advocate to include: a medical expert in the field of pediatrics and a social worker with a minimum of 10 years direct case work experience. The panel shall review the repeated entry of children into the care 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 8. Section 2DDDD of chapter 29 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking, in the final clause, the word “and”; and further amended, at the end thereof, by inserting the following clause:- “; and (11) summer enrichment programs for youth in the care and custody of the commonwealth to prevent school dropout and encourage new creative thinking and engagement in fields vital to the commonwealth’s economic growth.”

                          

              SECTION 9. Section 2 of chapter 71B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following paragraph:-

                           The department of elementary and secondary education shall promulgate regulations (i) to allow foster children to continue their education in the school they were enrolled in before entering foster care for the remainder of the current school year if such placement is determined to be in their best interest; (ii) to minimize the loss of learning time due to changing schools during the academic year; and (iii) for transferring academic and other records expediently when a foster child is placed in a new school.  Academic and other records shall include an individualized education plan and shall be transferable immediately to any other licensed school and school district within the commonwealth, unless a child’s individualized education plan is subject to reevaluation in pursuant to this section.

             

                            SECTION 10. Section 7 of chapter 76 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following paragraph:-

                            The department of elementary and secondary education, in consultation with the department of children and families, shall promulgate regulations requiring local school districts to ensure that any school age child placed in foster care or group care outside of their home town shall have their school records transferred within 2 business days to ensure the continuation of the child’s learning. Any absences the child endures due to a school transfer, court appearance or any meeting regarding their foster care status shall not be counted against the child in any matter of graduation or in any child requiring assistance application.

              SECTION 11.  Said section 7 of chapter 76, as so appearing, is hereby further 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”) for the remainder of the current school year.  The right to attend the school of origin shall apply to any subsequent placement for the remainder of that school year.  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 12. Section 2 of chapter 111G of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following paragraph:-

                            The department, in consultation with the commissioner of children and families and the division, shall, subject to appropriation, review and revise the early intervention operational standards to ensure that children under the age of 3, who have an open protective case with the department of children and families, be deemed categorically eligible for early intervention services.

                           

                            SECTION 13. Paragraph (7) of subsection (a) of section 23 of said chapter 119, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after clause (i) the following 4 subsections:-

                            (j) The department, in consultation with the area boards created in section 13 of chapter 18B and the statewide advisory council created in section 16 of chapter 18B, shall create an age-appropriate, culturally-appropriate, life-skills curriculum for children in the foster care system; provider, however, the department may modify existing resources for this purpose. The curriculum shall begin for children age 11 and continue through age 18 and shall include, but not be limited to, the following areas: interpersonal skills; completing household duties; running a home; grocery shopping; opening a bank account; interviewing for jobs and/or college; filling out job applications; and managing bills. The curriculum shall be approved by the secretary of health and human services and the child advocate and shall include a timeframe and cost analysis of implementation within 3 years of implementation of this act.

                            (k) Each child, age 7 or older, shall be given a meaningful opportunity to participate in the development of the case plan and to state the child’s preference(s) for initial and any subsequent placement or custody. The department shall ask any child, age 7 or older, to provide the names of any kin or other adults with whom the child has a relationship. Further, the department shall ask any child, age 7 or older, in private, to state the child’s preference(s) for initial and any subsequent placement or custody.

                            Each parent shall also be asked to provide the name of kin or other adult with whom the child or the family has a relationship who could serve as a potential placement for the child. Each parent shall also be given a meaningful opportunity to participate in the development of the case plan and to state the parent’s preference(s) for initial and any subsequent placement or custody of the child.

                            If the department has, or is seeking, custody of a child, the department shall first investigate the possibility of placing the child in accordance with the placement preferences of the child and/or parent(s).The department shall complete that investigation before placing the child and make placement changes as appropriate based on the outcome of that investigation. Specific reasons for placement decisions must be documented in writing in the case file, including the reasons for rejecting placements identified by the child and/or parent(s).

                           

              (l) Each child shall have one of the child’s social workers present at any placement planning meeting, interview, attorney meeting or any other meeting pertaining to the future living standards or placement of the child. Each child shall also have the right to be actively involved in the development of the child’s permanency plan, shall be given every opportunity to ask questions and offer input as to the outcome of the child’s permanency plan and shall fully understand the decisions being made and the options offered to the child during the permanency planning process.

                            (m) The department shall provide to each child a free credit report, pursuant to the fair credit reporting act, from each of the 3 major credit bureaus at the time of entry or re-entry into care and annually thereafter, for the time that said child remains in custody of the commonwealth, to determine whether identity theft has occurred and to correct all erroneous entries on said child’s credit record.  If the credit report displays other negative or erroneous items, the commonwealth shall provide the necessary services to correct said child’s credit record, including, but not limited to, legal and other advocacy fees.

                            The department shall: (i) provide the child’s attorney with a copy of each credit report within 30 days of obtaining the credit report results; (ii) work with the child’s attorney to notify the district attorney, for the district in which the child resides, no later than 30 days after receipt of the credit report in order to correct any erroneous items; and (iii) make each annual credit report request not later than 60 days after the child’s birthday, or 60 days after the child’s entry or re-entry into custody.

              (n) 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 14. Section 3 of chapter 210 of the General Laws, as most recently amended by chapter 93 of the acts of 2011, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following paragraph:-

                            (e) If at least two years have passed since the court entered an order under this chapter or chapter 119 terminating parental rights, the child whose parents were the subject of that order may file a motion requesting that the court vacate the order with respect to one or both of the child’s former parents, but only if all of the following apply:

              i.              The child is at least 12 years of age;

              ii.              The court has determined after a hearing under section 29B of chapter 119 that adoption is no longer the permanency plan for the child; and

              iii.              Either the child has not been adopted or, if the child has been adopted, a court has entered an order terminating the parental rights of the child’s adoptive parents or the adoptive parents have voluntarily surrendered their parental rights.

              The child shall sign the motion in the absence of a showing of good cause as to why the child could not do so. The court shall order that an evidentiary hearing be held and give notice of the hearing to whichever of the child’s former parents the motion relates, with notice being provided in the manner prescribed for a petition filed under section 24. Neither parent shall be considered a party for the purpose of the motion, nor shall either have an independent right to be heard, though a parent’s testimony may be offered into evidence if the parent is called as a witness by a party. The court shall grant the motion if it determines by a preponderance of evidence that vacating the order terminating parental rights is in the child’s best interests. The court shall specify in writing the factual basis for its determination. As soon as practicable after granting the motion, the court shall enter a new dispositional order under section 26(b), provided that the order is in the best interests of the child. For purposes of this paragraph, the term “child” includes a young adult as defined in section 21 of chapter 119.

                           

                            SECTION 15. The secretary of the executive office of health and human services shall work with the secretary of the executive office of labor and workforce development to create individual savings accounts funded by a percentage of the child’s supplemental security income for each youth, age 15 and older, who is in the custody of the department and develop a percentage scale of annual deposit requirements based the child’s supplemental security income and age of the child with a larger percentage being deposited as the child ages. Each child for which an individual savings account is created shall be allowed to retain the balance of the child’s personal account upon release or upon aging out of the custody of the commonwealth.

                            SECTION 16. Section 21 of this act shall apply regardless of whether the two year requirement is met before, on, or after the effective date of this act.

              SECTION 17. Chapter 71 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following new section:-

              Section 54. School nurses shall be trained in child abuse, neglect and mental health as part of their responsibilities.

              SECTION 18. Chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following new section:-

              Section 21B.  Each area office shall have a Nurse-Practitioner as part of the department’s assessment and medical service team. The Nurse-Practitioner shall be trained in mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse as well as address the wellness needs of the child and family.

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