TOO MANY COOKS

1 C Baker DCF

^ Governor Baker has every right to be upset at child care confusion in Massachusetts. Now comes the hard part

—- —- —- —-

You do remember that old saw, right ? About how “too many cooks spoil the broth” ? I’m thinking about just how appropriate the saying is to the Rube Goldberg machine known as Department of Families and Children (DCF) and its failure to protect little Jack Loiselle of Hardwick in Worcester County, who now lies in a hospital bed in a coma.

Or perhaps the too many cooks thing doesn’t apply merely to DC. Perhaps in the matter of protecting children it lies with the entire palette of child protection laws in force in Massachusetts. Because DCF does NOT have the cause of child safeguards all to itself. Probate Courts share in it. Custody of a child is covered by c. 208 of our General Laws. Probate Courts make custody decisions, and the rule is that a child’s parents (natural or by adoption) have a presumption over other possible custodians. Probate Courts also appoint a lawyer — a guardian ad litem — for any child whose care is before it.

If custody of a child up for ruling by a Probate Judge has a DCF involvement, the DCF is asked for its opinion. But i DCF is not involved, the Probate Judge makes his or her decision based on the presumption I mentioned. Which is how jack Loiselle came to have his very dysfunctional father as his custodial parent once his mother lost custody.

Thereby DCF, later called to investigate reports of abuse, found itself nicked at the outset of its involvement. or it, too, is greatly influenced by the custody presumption in favor of parents. DCF tries hard not to take custody of a child away from its parent(s). Child advocates make much noise about it. Has anyone forgotten the Justine Pelletier lap last year, in which mostly right-wing activists made huge noise that she should not be in hospital care but returned to her parents ?

In custody matters the DCF is damned no matter how it decides.

Care of children is an issue where passion has become an obstacle to right decision making. How else to explain the 20 to 30 people, therapists and DCf workers, school people and Courts,. monitoring Jack Loiselle in the first place ? It was almost inevitable that 20 or 30 monitors would have very different opinions of his situation; and so they did. But after the loss, last year, of Jeremiah Oliver, under DCF care in a city not very far from Hardwick, DCF was taking no chances — because what DCF leader ants to go through what Commissioner Olga Roche went through ? – and thus the overkill that led to irresolvable confusion.

Governor Baker said yesterday, at a press conference regarding the Loiselle case report, that there was systemic failure on DCF’;s part. There was. he will now move to reconfigure DCF procedures; as he should. Yet no DCF rewrite can, by itself, cut to the quick of child care confusion in Massachusetts, because a DCF rewrite won’ change how Probate Courts rule in custody conflicts.

In addition, state law has yet a third procedure for dealing with children in need of extra care : the so-called “CHINS,” a child in need of services petition, that almost anyone involved in a particular child’s life can file at a District Court. Judges of District Courts lack the family service help that Probate Judges have at hand; and if, in “CHINS” cases a guardian ad litem is always appointed, the money or him or her to do a worthwhile investigation may not be at hand. The result is a guesswork decision that often feels like sledgehammer justice.

If we want to put paid to DCF outcomes like that which has befallen Jack Loiselle, we need to reform our child care laws much more comprehensively than Baker ha snow ordered. we need to integrate DCF decisions — and its administrative procedures — into Probate Court family service guidelines, and we need to merge “CHINS” cases entirely into DCF procedures.

Doing all this will require the legislature to add significant money to the DCF budget — probably much more than the $ 100,000,000 that was cut during Deval Patrick’s second term and which Baker has committed to restore.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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