Settlement with US officials does not promise systemic change
Re “US finds DCF bias on parents with disabilities” (Page A1, Nov. 21): The agreement reached by the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, where federal officials substantiated allegations of the state agency’s discrimination against parents with disabilities, may sound like a victory and another tool for advocates; however, no systemic change will come.
The agreements to create new policies, install a disability coordinator, and provide staff training may be positive, but under the settlement, DCF admits no wrongdoing. The agency’s punitive culture continues unabated, where many sound policies currently on the books are routinely ignored and, worse, contravened.
DCF is already obligated to work on an individualized assessment approach and work jointly with families to create an action plan, something that rarely occurs. The agency has refused to do external work and outreach to listen to the Black, brown, and poor communities most affected by generations of traumatic policies that have ripped families apart. Unheard are the voices of the many children experiencing a childhood in care that is marked by major successive traumas due to having DCF as their custodian.
DCF must admit its wrongdoing before any real change can come. The civil and human rights of children and families in Massachusetts continue to be at risk under this agency’s watch.
The writer is an attorney who advocates for families involved with the Department of Children and Families.
Supports are key, and state must be held to account
The “landmark agreement,” as federal officials called it, between the state Department of Children and Families and the US departments of Justice and Health and Human Services states that bias against parents with a disability exists, and that parental disability cannot be a criterion in deciding whether a child is removed from the home.
How is it possible, with all the devastating problems confronting families — addiction, violence, severe mental illness — that children have been taken from parents due to bias toward people with physical or mild cognitive difficulties?
Children who are loved thrive in families with parents who have disabilities. If families need outside support, the state must offer comprehensive in-home services, keeping family constellations, along with their dignity, intact.
I met struggling families for many years as a clinical social worker in child welfare and mental health. Twice I recommended removing a child; both times the children were loved. In both cases, they also required protection from outside parties that the parents couldn’t provide.
Those cases weighed heavily on my shoulders, just as the well-being of the Commonwealth’s children should concern all of us. And because these problems are largely systemic, we should avoid assigning blame. Instead, let’s hold state officials accountable, by monitoring legislation and advocating for laws that protect children.
I heartily support the DCF agreement, but to congratulate ourselves for doing what’s right strikes the wrong chord.
The writer is a past president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.