Case offers window into multiple systemic problems at DCF
The Office of the Child Advocate’s report on the Department of Children and Families’ role in 14-year-old David Almond’s life and death is a tragic window into flawed decision-making and lack of transparency in the agency (“DCF, others failed abused boy, report says,” Page A1, April 1). The agency’s internal foster-care review process, staffed by DCF employees, reviewed the case two times after David and his brother Michael were returned to a troubled home. A truly independent foster-care review process outside of DCF is critically needed, though, shockingly, not called for by the report of the Office of the Child Advocate.
More oversight by the Juvenile Court also is called for by the child advocate. Yet not acknowledged in the report is DCF’s legal position, under current case law interpretation, that the agency’s decisions are only reviewable by an abuse-of-discretion standard, where the court would need to find a DCF decision to be arbitrary and capricious to then make specific orders to the agency.
While the poor decision-making in this case surrounded an erroneous call to return the children home, DCF is equally as bad in its decision-making to keep children out of their homes and in foster care. The child advocate’s report calls for more independent voices in the court process because other parties — parents and children — are adversaries. Seeing parents and children and their advocates as adversaries, DCF continually refuses to fulfill its mandate to work collaboratively with families on the core issues that cause their children to be removed.
DCF’s punitive policing approach breeds mistrust and does not increase child safety. The thinking in the agency that is biased toward institutional priorities and dismisses competent external and internal information will continue unchecked, even with the child advocate’s recommendations.
The writer is a lawyer who works on child custody cases.
She wrote about a tragic case in 2015 — now she writes again, but little has changed
I was shocked and saddened to read the results of the investigative report into the death of David Almond of Fall River, the intellectually disabled 14-year-old under DCF care. I was also horrified at the similarities to another case, that of 7-year-old Jack Loiselle in 2015, who fell into a coma, due to starvation and abuse by his father. I remember that case vividly because I wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe at the time that was published. At that time, Governor Baker vowed to improve policies, hire more social workers, and create more oversight.
Unfortunately, the series of inexplicable events that allowed the Loiselle case to take place seems to have been repeated in the Almond case, including giving the fathers custody when there was obvious information that indicated they were not capable of being caregivers for their children.
So, even though you report that after the Loiselle case, Baker hired “300 more social workers” and “ordered a slew of policy changes,” it appears that the critical factor of oversight did not take place in the Almond case. Instead, somehow, there was what the Office of the Child Advocate called a “multi-system failure,” probably because DCF, the Fall River public school system, and the state’s Juvenile Court operated in their own silos for the months and years leading to David Almond’s death, just as institutions did in the Loiselle case. This needs to change.
Also, in keeping with transparency, it doesn’t make sense that Maria Moussaides, director of the Office of the Child Advocate, would recommend that DCF conduct a review of its own practices. This review should be performed as an independent audit.
State report rightly seeks wisdom of court-appointed special advocates
The tragic death of Fall River teen David Almond, while under the supervision of DCF, is nothing short of heartbreaking. David’s death from abuse and neglect during the COVID-19 pandemic is the story that many in child welfare services feared reading (“Half of DCF children’s visits are still virtual,” Page A1, April 6). Reports of child abuse plummeted during the pandemic as mandated reporters transitioned to virtual visits, which proved to be no substitute for in-person evaluations.
The balancing act between mitigating COVID risk and ensuring child safety represents an unenviable dilemma for all involved. But we must do better.
The report from the Office of the Child Advocate is an excellent starting place. One of the recommendations is for the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Boston CASA (court-appointed special advocates) provides trained volunteer guardians ad litem who advocate for the best interests of children under DCF supervision. These advocates interact with teachers, counselors, health care providers, and the child and family and can provide the court with additional insights into a child’s well-being.
The writer is a volunteer for Boston CASA.