In 2018, the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act was signed into law, which, among other things, protects families from unneeded separation in foster care. States submit prevention plans to the federal government to become eligible for reimbursement under the law, which reimburses states for services to keep children safely at home and out of foster care. Effective services save the state huge costs and reduce family separation. All families, particularly with members who have been in foster care, have much at stake in ensuring prevention plans include programs that are fair and effective, particularly for families of color.
Family Matters, one of the few groups in Massachusetts made up of people directly impacted by the Department of Children and Families, and the Massachusetts Child Welfare Coalition, the state’s only coalition of independent child welfare advocates, wrote a letter in October requesting a meeting with DCF to give input on Massachusetts’ Family First prevention plan.
To date, DCF hasn’t answered that letter. As a result, the plan will be submitted without vital input. Unlike in many states, DCF had no public Family First planning process, despite federal guidance stating “it is absolutely critical to strengthen our efforts to listen to the families and youth served by the system and integrate their voices into all aspects of child welfare planning and improvement.”
Now, in flouting federal guidance by refusing to listen to families’ firsthand expertise on its prevention plan, DCF increases the risk of family separation for all families. It’s time for DCF to start listening to families.
Family Matters of Boston and Worcester
Elsen is a lawyer and child welfare advocate at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute representing the Child Welfare Coalition.