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  • PART I ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOVERNMENT
  • TITLE II EXECUTIVE AND ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS
    OF THE COMMONWEALTH
  • CHAPTER 18C OFFICE OF THE CHILD ADVOCATE
  • Section 11 Comprehensive plan for response to child abuse and neglect; advice of experts; contents

Section 11. (a) The child advocate, in consultation with the advisory board and the interagency child welfare task force established by section 215 of chapter 6, shall formulate a comprehensive plan, with periodic benchmarks and cost estimates, to recommend a coordinated, system-wide response to child abuse and neglect, including related mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence 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, such as changes to the issues itemized in the comprehensive plan.

(b) The child advocate may seek advice broadly from individuals with expertise in child welfare in formulating the plan and consult with, social workers of the department, pediatricians, child psychiatrists, early childhood education and adolescent behavior specialists, parents of children who have received services from the commonwealth, and persons who, as children, were clients of the department.

(c) 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.

(d) The comprehensive plan shall examine the status of and address the following issues:—

(1) racial disproportionality and disparity of the department’s client population, including the effectiveness of reforms designed to address overrepresentation of children of color within that population;

(2) the needs of families whose children are truant, runaways, or whose conduct interferes with their parent’s ability to adequately care for and protect them. The plan shall propose a system of community-based programs to assist these children and families by providing services on a continuum of increasing intensity with the goal of keeping children out of the juvenile justice and child protection systems. The plan shall examine: (i) the existing complex system of services available from multiple public and private agencies; (ii) the differences in service delivery throughout the state; (iii) the need for immediate response to stabilize a family in crisis and to connect the family to services in their own community; and (iv) the collection and analysis of information needed to evaluate and identify gaps in service to such children and families throughout the commonwealth;

(3) mandated reporting, including: (i) the quality and quantity of training provided to mandated reporters; (ii) standards for training based on best practices for recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect; and (iii) the use of the following as forums for training mandated reporters: online programs, training offered by state agencies, and existing programs of professional training such as those required for initial licensure or certification and relicensure or recertification, continuing education programs or in-service training;

(4) screening of child abuse and neglect reports, including: (i) centralizing the reporting and screening processes; (ii) a single, 24-hour, toll-free telephone number for all oral reports, a single fax number or mailing address for all written reports and internet-based filing of reports; (iii) multiple reports filed about a particular child or family; (iv) a determination of when and under what conditions reports may have been inappropriately screened out and the impact of those decisions; and (v) direct, electronic access to the National Crime Information Center for criminal history records and warrants;

(5) child protection teams, which are multidisciplinary teams that provide specialized medical examinations of children who present signs of abuse or neglect and that include pediatricians or pediatric nurses and psychologists or social workers who have been trained to recognize child abuse and neglect, including statewide expansion to regional hospitals, all hospitals with emergency rooms and all pediatric care hospitals;

(6) the shortage of experts in the commonwealth who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of abused or neglected children, with recommendations to train pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners to become clinical experts who are knowledgeable and competent in all areas of child abuse and neglect, including: the identification, assessment, and treatment of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and neglect and factitious illness by proxy; multi-disciplinary training with law enforcement, state and local agencies and child advocacy centers; collection of forensic evidence; court testimony; research; and child advocacy;

(7) family engagement model or other nationally recognized models to strengthen child welfare practice, including: (i) the evaluation of the model and its use of differential response and risk assessment tools to determine how effectively findings of abuse or neglect are made; (ii) the cost to implement the model state-wide; (iii) the combination of departmental functions such that an individual social worker investigates, assesses and provides ongoing case management, particularly as that combination impacts incidents requiring specialized investigatory skills; (iv) delays in the fair hearing process; and (v) time limits allowed for screenings, investigations and assessments;

(8) social worker caseloads and teaming, including: (i) the effects of teaming on caseloads and of caseloads on teaming; (ii) the cost of state-wide adoption of various standard caseload ratios; (iii) a potential multi-year plan to reduce caseloads; and (iv) duties handled by social workers that may be more affordably and efficiently handled by other staff;

(9) law enforcement involvement, including: (i) how effectively the department and law enforcement collaborate and whether there is room for improvement or coordination of resources; (ii) protocols for mandatory reporting of certain abuse or neglect to local law enforcement and district attorneys and (iii) potential alignment with efforts to prevent or prosecute domestic violence and with the procedures used in the investigation of sexual abuse, such as the sexual abuse intervention network and the sexual assault nurse examiners program;

(10) schools of social work, including: (i) how effectively social work and related degree programs teach child welfare practice; (ii) greater cooperation between the department and higher education to study child welfare issues; (iii) the capacity of public and private schools to meet increased demand for social work and related degrees, including concentrations in child welfare; and (iv) a timeline for inclusion of child welfare concentrations in bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at public institutions of higher education;

(11) social worker qualifications, including the infrastructure needed to support a more qualified workforce, such as full implementation of proposed programs at the child welfare institute and the transferability of certificate coursework to degree-granting programs;

(12) confidentiality, including research of legal and ethical considerations to be addressed if information relative to cases of child abuse and neglect is shared between the office and other executive agencies;

(13) health service needs of the department’s client population and health consultation needs of the department, including: (i) the need for physical and behavioral health services and consultation, including those related to mental health and substance abuse treatment; (ii) coordination and consultation among executive agencies; (iii) proposed best-practice models for more effective client behavioral health services; and (iv) oversight and peer review of the safety and effectiveness of the use of psychotropic drugs by children involved with executive agencies;

(14) critiques of the department, including: (i) potential alignment of a internal or external audit unit with the department’s continuous quality improvement and quality service review initiatives; and (ii) dissemination of the findings of these critiques to policy makers within and outside of the department;

(15) criminal offender record information reviews, including: (i) the use of these reviews in out-of-home, kinship and foster placements and (ii) areas for improved efficiency and equality;

(16) permanency planning for those who, due to their age, are transitioning out of the child welfare system to assist with health care, housing, higher education, long-term interpersonal connections and other needs for independent living;

(17) examine the frequency of transitions in the treatment plans and living placements of foster children;

(18) provide an analysis of the administrative and cost requirements and recommendations to create a personal needs and individual development account for each child in foster care over the age of 14;

(19) review the process of adopting children in foster care and recommend streamlined procedures to reduce the time required to complete the adoption process;

(20) the impact on child welfare efforts of the early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services provision and reasonable promptness provision of the federal Medicaid law, 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(10)(A),-(a)(43), 1396d(r)(5),-(a)(4)(B), and 1396a(a)(8)(2005), respectively;

(21) oversight provided by MassHealth and its contractors of medical and behavioral health expenditures made on behalf of the department’s client population;

(22) federal funding available for child welfare purposes and factors affecting that funding, including: (i) the Title IV-E saturation rate for foster children, (ii) the determination of AFDC status for the non-TANF population, and (iii) expedited judicial determinations made within the required time frames;

(23) an estimate of the expenditure necessary to implement an annual adjustment to the daily rate for maintenance payments to foster care, adoptive and guardianship families, to provide care so as to meet the rate recommended periodically by the United States Department of Agriculture; and

(24) the effectiveness of the state’s child abuse laws as they relate to defining, prohibiting, preventing and reporting cases of emotional abuse of children, including recommendations to increase public and professional education and awareness of the symptoms and impact of emotional abuse.