Failing Our Kids

Measures of the Broken Child Welfare System in Massachusetts

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

attributed to Albert Einstein

We have fallen into a nightmarish cycle in Massachusetts.

It’s a cycle of child-death incidents followed by investigations, reports, audits, apologies, promises, and reforms—and then the cycle repeats yet again. Meanwhile, for many years, Friends of Children has been publicly asking for specific outcome measures that demonstrate the intended and actual impacts of child-welfare reforms in Massachusetts, for children and for families.

There were no answers.

For years, we have been imploring our leaders to step outside the cycle of tragedy and follow up on the endless investigations, news reports, and journalistic pieces that document this litany of systemic failure.

The silence that has followed our requests has been deafening.

Into this silence, the hard data and a timeline of events speak volumes for our kids.

Using the latest federal child welfare data available from Child Trends (FFY 2019) and the report of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF Annual Report FY2020), Friends of Children and Citizens for Juvenile Justice have conducted a comparison of publicly available key performance metrics related to foster care.* This review first compares DCF to U.S. averages (all states) and specifically to other states (the wealthiest, the poorest, and the most populated, as well as other New England states).  Additionally, we identify DCF performance before implementation of the 2015 child-welfare reforms of Governor Charlie Baker’s administration and several years later, in FFY2019, to look at the impact of the reforms.

*Foster care is a temporary living situation for children and young adults who have been removed from their homes by DCF and the Courts; placements may include relatives, foster homes, and group facilities.

The Data

As you review the graphics and timeline that follow, you’ll learn that Massachusetts is failing children in DCF custody compared to other states on critical measures.

Measures such as:

  • The average length of time in foster care;
  • The percentage of children in foster care for 5+ years;
  • Children experiencing four or more foster care placements while in DCF custody; and
  • The percentage of children adopted by relatives.

Children and youth involved with DCF, among the most vulnerable in our society, have very little presence in our legislative chambers, our newsrooms, and our boardrooms. And they have no direct say whatsoever in our voting booths. In 2020, 15,584 children, youth, and young adults were in out-of-home care in Massachusetts—a staggering number of young lives (DCF Foster Care Review Report FY2020). Children have no money and no power. They are functionally voiceless in the policy decisions that most affect their lives.

Remember these vulnerable young citizens—their voices, their faces, their futures—as you read the data and timeline that follow.

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You’re about to learn that children in DCF custody in Massachusetts would do better to live in almost any other state.

Even with what the Baker administration and the state legislature called “major reforms” in 2015, DCF performance remains among the worst in the nation.

Available data do not currently include meaningful measures of well-being, measures of child development and functioning across multiple domains (e.g., physical, cognitive and social-emotional), yet one can safely assume that the poor performance measures we do have are linked to poor well-being measures for the children and youth currently in the state’s custody—functionally, in our custody.

Time Spent in Foster Care

Average length of time spent in foster care

A long time in a temporary placement

HIGHER than the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-1A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

4th HIGHEST compared to the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-1B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-1C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

3rd HIGHEST among the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-1D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

2nd HIGHEST among New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-1E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

INCREASING in recent years

*DCF FY20 Annual Report
*DCF FY20 Annual Report

Data Sources: Child Trends FFY2019 & MA DCF Annual Report FY2020
State rankings for most populated, wealthiest, and poorest (both by median income) from World Population Review

Children In Foster Care 5+ Years

Percent of Children in Foster Care 5+ Years

A lifetime for a child…

HIGHER than the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-2A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

8th HIGHEST compared to the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-2B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-2C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

2nd HIGHEST among the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-2D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

2nd HIGHEST among New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-2E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

INCREASING in recent years

*DCF FY20 Annual Report does not include this metric
*DCF FY20 Annual Report does not include this metric

Data Sources: Child Trends FFY2019 & MA DCF Annual Report FY2020
State rankings for most populated, wealthiest, and poorest (both by median income) from World Population Review

Four or more Foster Care Placements

Percent of Children with 4+ Foster Care Placements

Multiple placements have major negative impacts on child well-being1

MA has the worst performance of all states in comparisons on this critical measure.  Why aren’t we hearing more about this?

HIGHER than the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-3A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHER compared to the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-3B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-3C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

HIGHER than the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-3D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHEST among New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-3E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

INCREASING in recent years

*DCF FY20 annual Report does not include this metric
*DCF FY20 annual Report does not include this metric

Data Sources: Child Trends FFY2019 & MA DCF Annual Report FY2020
State rankings for most populated, wealthiest, and poorest (both by median income) from World Population Review
1 Children’s Rights

Placed in Group Care

Percent of Children Placed in Group Care

Is group care appropriate for all of these children?  Are there not enough less-restrictive options or services to keep kids at home?

HIGHER than the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-4A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHEST compared to the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-4B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-4C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

HIGHER than the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-4D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

2nd HIGHEST among New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-4E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

NO CHANGE in recent years

*DCF FY20 Annual Report. Sum of congregate, STARR & non-referral
*DCF FY20 Annual Report. Sum of congregate, STARR & non-referral

Data Sources: Child Trends FFY2019 & MA DCF Annual Report FY2020
State rankings for most populated, wealthiest, and poorest (both by median income) from World Population Review

Adopted By Relatives

Percent of Children Adopted By Relatives

Why is MA performing so poorly when DCF has been focused on kin placements?2

FAR BELOW the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-5A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

LOWER than the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-5B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

LOWER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-5C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

LOWER than the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-5D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

LOWEST among New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-5E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

NO CHANGE since 2015

*DCF FY20 Annual Report does not include this metric
*DCF FY20 Annual Report does not include this metric

Time in Foster Care Before Adoption

Length of Stay in Foster Care Before Adoption

A significant part of a child’s life without a permanent family

LONGER than the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-6A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

3rd LONGEST compared to the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-6B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

LONGER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-6C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

LONGER than the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-6D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

LONGEST among the New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-6E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

INCREASING in recent years

*DCF FY20 Annual Report does not include this metric
*DCF FY20 Annual Report does not include this metric

Data Sources: Child Trends FFY2019 & MA DCF Annual Report FY2020
State rankings for most populated, wealthiest, and poorest (both by median income) from World Population Review

Exiting Foster Care to Emancipation

Percent of Youth Exiting Foster Care to Emancipation3

Aging out of care without permanence has lifelong consequences4

HIGHER than the national average

FOC-DCF-Charts-7A-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

2nd HIGHEST compared to the most populated states

FOC-DCF-Charts-7B-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

HIGHER than the poorest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-7C-Screen-1000px-30Apr2021

3rd HIGHEST among the wealthiest states

FOC-DCF-Charts-7D-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

2nd HIGHEST among New England states

FOC-DCF-Charts-7E-Screen-1000px-28Apr2021

Consistently HIGHER than the national average

*DCF FY20 Annual Report
*DCF FY20 Annual Report

Data Sources: Child Trends FFY2019 & MA DCF Annual Report FY2020
State rankings for most populated, wealthiest, and poorest (both by median income) from World Population Review
3 In child welfare emancipation means aging out at age 22, or before, and often after years of trauma, with no “forever” family.
4 Think of Us “Away from Home" Report

A Chronicle of Systemic Failure

2014

APR 18, 2014

FOC-DCF-Icon-Triangle-Screen

Jerimiah Oliver, age 5, whose family was involved with Department of Children and Families, is found dead.

MAY 22, 2014

Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) Releases "Quality Improvement Report." This report served as a blueprint for the Baker Administration's 2015 reforms.

Detailed policy, procedure, and operational reform recommendations. Read the Report.

JUN 2014

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute releases: "If Not Now, When? A Call to Action for Systemic Child Welfare Reform in Massachusetts"

SEP 2014

The Boston Foundation releases "The Utility of Trouble From Crisis to Opportunity: Child Welfare Reform in Massachusetts"

2015

Governor Baker inaugurated (JAN 8, 2015)

Citizens for Juvenile Justice releases "Missed Opportunities, Preventing Youth in the Child Welfare System from entering the Juvenile Justice System" (2015)

JAN 13, 2015

The House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight and House Members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities’ releases "Review of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families"

JAN 29, 2015

FOC-DCF-Icon-Federal-Screen

US Department of Justice and Health and Human Services issue joint letter of findings that the Department of Children and Families discriminated against a parent in violation of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.

Linda Spears appointed DCF Commissioner (FEB 2015)

JUL 14, 2015

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Jack Loiselle, a boy who had been involved with DCF, is found beaten and starved in his father’s home.

AUG 15, 2015

FOC-DCF-Icon-Triangle-Screen

Avalena Conway-Coxon, age 2, died in a DCF foster home.

SEP 4, 2015

Department of Children and Families (DCF) releases "Case Review: Jack Loiselle"

“DCF views the failure to protect Jack as an indication of systemic failures both internal and external to DCF.”

Maria Mossaides appointed as second Director of Office of the Child Advocate (OCA). (SEP 10, 2015)

SEP 21, 2015

FOC-DCF-Icon-Triangle-Screen

Baby Doe body identified as Bella Bond, age 2, whose family had a long history with DCF

SEP 28, 2015

Governor Baker, Frontline Child Protection Workers Announce DCF Reforms

"Systemic policy reforms are necessary...", Governor Baker states.

SEP 30, 2015

Department of Children and Families releases “Case Review: The Foster Home of Kimberly Malpass”

OCT 28, 2015

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) releases "Review of the Death of Bella Bond Report"

NOV 20, 2015

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Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) releases "Management Review of the Department of Children and Families, Final Report to the Legislature"

NOV 2015

Pioneer Institute releases "Driving Critical Reforms at DCF - Ideas for a Direction Forward in Massachusetts’ Child and Family Services"

2016

JAN 2016

FOC-DCF-Icon-Federal-Screen

Federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) 2015 released for state of MA.

Massachusetts Court Improvement Program begins study of Education of Children and Youth in Foster Care in Massachusetts. (MAR 2016)

2017

JAN 2017

Friends of Children authors "Foster Care Review Office" bill filed in State House and Senate to create foster care review process independent of DCF.

2017

Legislature creates the Task Force on Child Welfare Data Reporting

Court Improvement Program report, "Designing Data Driven Directions for School Success of Students Involved in Child Welfare Proceedings" is completed, however official report was never released. (AUG 9, 2017)

Shows substantial disparities in school experiences of foster youth.

DEC 2017

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General Report: "Some Massachusetts Group Homes for Children in Foster Care Did Not Always Comply with State Health and Safety Requirements"

DEC 7, 2017

MA Office of the State Auditor releases "Audit Report, Department of Children and Families"

2018

JAN 2018

Boston Globe publishes "Child Protection Agency is Making Progress But Challenges Remain"

“analysis of key data points indicates the increased stability and resources haven’t yet led to significantly better outcomes for children”

Federal "Family First Act" signed into law (FEB 9, 2018)

Reforms and funding to keep children safely with their families and avoid foster care. Read the law

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) releases "Child Fatality Review Needs Assessment" (MAR 2018)

Citizens for Juvenile Justice release "Shutting Down the Trauma to Prison Pipeline: Early, Appropriate Care for Child-Welfare Involved Youth" (JUL 2018)

"Care and Protection of Walt", Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) unanimous decision (OCT 2018)

2019

FOC revises Foster Care Review Office bill, filed for second time in State House and Senate to create foster care review process independent of DCF. (JAN 2019)

MAR 2019

MA CIP releases report “Stable Placement, Stable School: Improving Education Outcomes of Children in Foster Care in Massachusetts”

APR 6, 2019

Boston Globe publishes "In a broken foster system some kids can’t find a bed for the night."

“MA has one of the worst records nationally for providing stable placements for children in foster care”

APR 22, 2019

Boston Globe publishes "Mass foster care oversight plagued by conflict of interest, advocates say."

APR 23, 2019

MA Office of the State Auditor releases "Local Financial Impact Review: Educational Services for Students in Foster Care and State Care"

APR 23, 2019

Boston Globe reports "Auditor concerned that communication issues hurt foster children’s education"

MAY 14, 2019

Boston Globe publishes "Baker administration pledges major reforms for troubled foster care system"

MAY 16, 2019

Office of the State Auditor releases "Audit of the Office of the Child Advocate"

JUN 30, 2019

MA DCF Child and Family Services Plan 2015-2019 Final Report to the federal government

JUL 29, 2019

Boston Globe publishes "Child deaths under state’s watch fall, but new data raises more questions."

DEC 30, 2019

MA DCF releases Annual Report FY2019

2020

JAN 3, 2020

Boston Globe publishes "An Innovative report takes a look at the Department of Children and Families, and finds stubborn problems. "

JAN 11, 2020

Mass Live publishes "House Speaker to meet with lawmakers examining foster care system after death of Whitman 2-year-old"

MAR 10, 2020

Gov. Baker declares state of emergency. Global pandemic shuts down the world. Raises immediate concerns for children and families involved with DCF.

JUL 2020

FOC-DCF-Icon-Federal-Screen

Federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) Round 3 State-by-state performance data and national performance comparisons.

MA DCF does worse than national performance on 6 of 7 metrics.

AUG 15, 2020

Boston Globe publishes “Your child’s a no-show at virtual school? You may get a call from the State’s child welfare agency”

AUG 16, 2020

Boston Globe publishes Friends of Children Letter to the Editor

SEP 2020

Task Force on Child Welfare Data Reporting begins posting notice of meetings, meeting agenda, and minutes for Task Force quarterly meetings on the Office of the Child Advocate website. Advocates and other citizens began attending the Task Force Meetings as “members of the public.”

OCT 1, 2020

MA DCF releases Annual Report FY2020

OCT 21, 2020

FOC-DCF-Icon-Triangle-Screen

David Almond, age 14, died seven months after DCF returned him to his father’s home.

NOV 18, 2020

Commonwealth Magazine publishes “Death of Fall River boy puts DCF in spotlight again.”

NOV 20, 2020

FOC-DCF-Icon-Federal-Screen

Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Department of Children and Families (DCF) reach agreement in 2015 findings of DCF violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the US Rehabilitation Act.

NOV 20, 2020

Boston Globe publishes "MA DCF repeatedly discriminated against parents with disabilities, federal officials find"

DEC 2020

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) releases Mandated Reporter Commission Status Report to the Legislature

DEC 2020

Despite efforts and bills filed in both the House and Senate, the MA Legislature does not pass a comprehensive child welfare bill.

2021

JAN 2021

Massachusetts Appleseed releases “Families Torn Apart: Language based discrimination at the MA DCF."

JAN 2021

FOC's Foster Care Review Office bill filed for third time in State House and Senate to create foster care review process independent of DCF.

JAN 26, 2021

Commonwealth Magazine publishes "Report slams DCF for lack of language services"

FEB 21, 2021

Commonwealth Magazine publishes "Why are Latinos so overrepresented in the state child welfare system?"

MAR 22 – APR 21, 2021

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

OCA posts Mandated Reporter* Commission Report Seeking Public Comment

* A “mandated reporter” is a person, from a profession-specific list of people, required by law to report to DCF if they have reasonable cause to believe a child/youth is abused or neglected.

Read the report | Read the Commonwealth Magazine article “State considering major expansion of child abuse reporting laws; Proposal raises fears of racial disproportionality”

MAR 31, 2021

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) releases investigative report: a multi-system investigation into the death of David Almond, age 14.

A scathing report of systemic operational dysfunction. Read the report.

APR 4, 2021

Mass Live publishes "From Jeremiah Oliver to David Almond: How the MA Department of Children and Families responded in the wake of children’s deaths"

APR 5, 2021

Boston Globe publishes “A year into the pandemic, DCF workers visiting only about half of children in person”

APR 13 & 17, 2021

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

Mandated Reporter* Commission holds public hearings on the Report seeking public comment

* A “mandated reporter” is a person, from a profession-specific list of people, required by law to report to DCF if they have reasonable cause to believe a child/youth is abused or neglected.

MAY 4, 2021

Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities holds Oversight Hearing on the OCA Investigative Report David Almond

MAY 2021

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

OCA releases FY2020 Annual Report (for period July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020)

JUN 9, 2021

Boston Globe publishes “They already had the air mattress’: Facing fewer options, DCF has planned for kids to sleep in the office”.

JUN 15, 2021

The Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities holds a “Foster Care” hearing.

JUN 30, 2021

FOC-DCF-Icon-OCA-Screen

MA Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) submits the Mandated Reporter Commission final report to the Legislature. Sixteen months after its establishment by the Legislature, the Commission, in a 93-page report, made no recommendations.

JUL 7, 2021

The Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities holds a “Disproportionality and Foster Care” hearing.

JUL 14, 2021

FOC-DCF-Icon-Federal-Screen

Lawyers for Civil Rights and the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice filed a federal complaint against the MA Department of Children and Families (DCF).

JUL 16, 2021

Governor Baker signs MA fiscal year 2021 budget that includes a racial impact statement for Department of Children and Families (DCF) reforms (section 2, item 4800-0038).

JUL 29, 2021

Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth publishes “LGBTQ Youth in the Massachusetts Child Welfare System, A Report on Pervasive Threats to Safety, Well-being and Permanency”.

TODAY

More than six years after the Baker Administration vowed end-to-end reform, leaders are still talking about getting more data. The same problems exist that were supposed to be addressed by the 2015 and 2019 reforms. The nightmarish cycle continues.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts must acknowledge two things: 

  1. The approaches taken since 2015 and before are not working, and for this reason, the Department of Children and Families’ operation requires immediate stabilization and a major overhaul for the sake of thousands of children and young people; and
  2. The child-welfare system in our state is broken and requires thoughtful and informed redesign, not more attempts at repair. 

We must do better. Our children deserve no less.

Here's How You Can Help

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The data and timeline you’ve just read lay bare a system that should and could be doing a better job. Behind the numbers are real children and young adults—their hopes, their dreams, their futures. Now that you’ve seen for yourself how poorly the child-welfare system in Massachusetts is performing compared to most other states in our nation, you may be questioning long-held assumptions. Or you may feel reaffirmed in your sense that something here has been very wrong for a long time.

Our kids need you. 

If each of us does our part, together, we can change this system for the better.

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Dare we imagine a day when the thousands of kids in the child-welfare system in Massachusetts look back and remember a time when life got better, when the system actually improved their situations?

We must.