House poised to restart push on child protection bill

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Calling the drop during the pandemic in reports of suspected child abuse a “troubling” sign, House Speaker Ron Mariano said Thursday he would move a bill to the floor soon that would implement new protections for foster parents and impose new reporting requirements on the Department of Children and Families.

The bill, which includes what supporters have called a “Foster Parents’ Bill of Rights,” nearly made it through the Legislature last session, but the House and Senate could not agree in the final details after versions passed both branches.

It is reemerging in the early months of the new session. Mariano said the House has prioritized the protection of vulnerable children over the years through its budgets and supports for DCF caseworkers.

“Despite these efforts, persistent systemic issues remain that the current pandemic has only exacerbated. With the state’s troubling drop in the filing of 51As over the last year, it is clear that more children and families are at-risk,” said Mariano, referring to reports of suspected child abuse and neglect made to DCF by mandatory reporters and others.

Mariano said the House would “immediately” take up legislation (H 87) filed by Reps. Paul Donato and Denise Garlick to “address those gaps where the system has failed our children and families and to provide additional safeguards to avoid any preventable tragedies as a result of this pandemic.”

The bill that cleared the House unanimously last session required foster parents to be considered as the first choice for adoption when a non-relative is not involved, provided for more training and resources, and ensured that foster parents receive as much information as possible ahead of time about children to be placed in their care.

The foster care bill is the latest example of the new speaker putting priority legislation, especially bills that fell just short of passage last session, on the fast track in the new year without following the usual process of holding a new hearing before a joint House-Senate committee.

In the statement from the speaker’s office, Mariano, Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, Garlick, and Rep. Michael Finn, chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, said the bill’s passage would allow the committee to begin immediately working with DCF on implementation.

“The House is steadfast in its position that the Commonwealth’s children cannot wait,” Mariano and the chairs said.

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