The federal government requires all states that receive federal foster-care funding to review the permanency plans of each child, youth, or young adult in foster care every six months to evaluate that young person’s safety, well-being, and progress towards permanency.
The consequences of these reviews can be life-altering.
In most states, this review is the responsibility of an entity and staff that are independent from the state’s child-welfare agency (DCF equivalent). In Massachusetts, however, foster-care review is currently an internal department within the Department of Children and Families (DCF) with staff who are DCF employees, most of whom have worked in other capacities at DCF prior to joining the Foster Care Review Unit—a situation that leads to a disturbing lack of external oversight and obvious conflicts of interest.
An independent foster-care review process would provide an opportunity to objectively assess, report, and make recommendations to all relevant stakeholders regarding the safety and well-being of children and families in the child-welfare system.
An independent foster care review process would establish checks and balances on the child welfare system, a system that saw 13,045 unique children, youth, and young adults in out-of-home care during FY20221, to monitor outcomes on individual children, ensure transparency through required reporting of aggregate data, and force accountability.
Given the potential impact of foster-care reviews on the lives of children and young adults in foster care, they deserve independent oversight—and they deserve assurances that the Commonwealth, which has legally assumed responsibility for parenting them, is taking their well-being seriously.
Endorsements of “An Act Establishing The Massachusetts Foster Care Review Office” (S.66, H.158, 2023-24 legislative session)
Jay D. Blitzman, retired First Justice of the MA Juvenile Court, Middlesex Division
Maureen Flatley, Expert in Child Welfare
Tony DeMarco, Juvenile Court Attorney