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Letters

A mother loses her children in a fraught state system

Cynthia is reflected in the rearview mirror as she drives to a DCF visit with her youngest daughter.Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe

Heartbreaking separation may well have been avoided

Last Sunday’s front-page story of a woman’s losing battle to keep her six children was more heartbreaking because it may not have had to end that way (“The call from DCF: ‘We have your children’ ”). The state Department of Children and Families’ mission is to strengthen struggling families so that children can stay safely at home, but we are left wondering whether Cynthia (the Globe omitted her last name to protect the identities of her children) got the services she needed.

She is a disabled mother who loved her children but repeatedly returned to a dangerous man who offered what seemed like love. She saw the required therapist, but did she have the intensive in-home support DCF can offer? Was she offered DCF’s homemaker services before what seemed like the removal of her children for a messy house? Did she get reasonable accommodations for disabled parents, required under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Many parents in Cynthia’s position don’t get needed services because the Commonwealth doesn’t adequately fund them. Although 87 percent of the children in DCF’s caseload are there to get services to remain or return home, only 8 percent of DCF’s services budget goes to keeping families together.

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The 2018 passage of the landmark federal Family First Prevention Services Act offers hope for families like Cynthia’s. For the first time ever, Congress will robustly fund states’ family stabilization services. This law offers the Commonwealth a chance it must not miss to get on board and commit to its mission of keeping children safely at home.

Susan R. Elsen

Coordinator

Child Welfare Reform Project

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Boston

Snags in federal funding prod states to lean toward breaking up families

Jenna Russell’s Feb. 9 story about a mother’s tragic experience with the Department of Children and Families gives a human face to an all-too-common phenomenon: the unnecessary removal of children from their families.

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As the article suggested, Cynthia’s story is not unique: More than 11,000 children in Massachusetts live in foster care. What the article omitted is how federal funding streams for state child welfare agencies, such as DCF, drive overzealous child removal while limiting incentives to provide assistance to parents like Cynthia.

Under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the federal government reimburses state agencies for services provided to children in foster care. While there is no limit to how much states can be reimbursed under this authority, such funding for support and stabilization services to families under Title IV-B is limited. It’s no surprise then that in 2016, total federal spending through Title IV-E was around $7.8 billion, swamping the $668 million in Title IV-B spending.

Federal funding intricacies for state child welfare practices are far more complex than just this, but one thing is clear: Thanks to the federal government, it’s much less expensive for Massachusetts to tear a child from the arms of her parent than to provide that parent with the support she needs for her family to thrive. With the incentives stacked so highly against them, it is no wonder that parents like Cynthia are unjustly deprived of their families.

Jeremy Ravinsky

Somerville

The writer is a second-year law student.