Section 1. It is hereby declared to be the policy of this commonwealth to direct its efforts, first, to the strengthening and encouragement of family life for the care and protection of children; to assist and encourage the use by any family of all available resources to this end; and to provide substitute care of children only when the family itself or the resources available to the family are unable to provide the necessary care and protection to insure the rights of any child to sound health and normal physical, mental, spiritual and moral development.
The purpose of this chapter is to insure that the children of the commonwealth are protected against the harmful effects resulting from the absence, inability, inadequacy or destructive behavior of parents or parent substitutes, and to assure good substitute parental care in the event of the absence, temporary or permanent inability or unfitness of parents to provide care and protection for their children.
The health and safety of the child shall be of paramount concern and shall include the long-term well-being of the child.
In all matters and decisions by the department of children and families, the policy of the department, as applied to children in its care and protection or children who receive its services, shall be to define best interests of the child as that which shall include, but not be limited to, considerations of precipitating factors and previous conditions leading to any decisions made in proceedings related to the past, current and future status of the child, the current state of the factors and conditions together with an assessment of the likelihood of their amelioration or elimination; the child’s fitness, readiness, abilities and developmental levels; the particulars of the service plan designed to meet the needs of the child within the child’s current placement whether with the child’s family or in a substitute care placement and whether such service plan is used by the department or presented to the courts with written documentation; and the effectiveness, suitability and adequacy of the services provided and of placement decisions, including the progress of the child or children therein. The department’s considerations of appropriate services and placement decisions shall be made in a timely manner in order to facilitate permanency planning for the child.
In all department proceedings that affect the child’s past, current and future placements and status, when determining the best interests of the child, there shall be a presumption of competency that a child who has attained the age of 12 is able to offer statements on the child’s own behalf and shall be provided with timely opportunities and access to offer such statements, which shall be considered by the department if the child is capable and willing. In all matters relative to the care and protection of a child, the ability, fitness and capacity of the child shall be considered in all department proceedings.
For purposes of this section, the words “all department proceedings” shall include departmental hearings and proceedings but shall not include a court proceeding even when the department is a party.