For the first time in the House Budget released by Charles Murphy and the Senate Budget released by Steven Panagiotakos, funding for family preservation has its own trackable, breakout line item in both the Senate and the House Budget; line item 4800-0040. An OpEd by Sana Fadel and Matthew Stone drew my attention to this terribly important protection for families; I hope line item 4800-0040 survives and is part of the final budget.
Why? Well in this state judges were stripped of the power to tell the Department of Children and Families to take good care of children. Judges cannot make decisions in Juvenile Court solely because a placement, or service is in the best interest of a child due to the toxic impact of two decisions, Adoption of Isaac and Care and Protection of Jeremy pages 6 and 7 of this newsletter, see also Care and Protection of Jeremy In this decision, the then-SJC held that placement and services for children in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (“the Department”) were “ministerial acts” and could only be overturned if what the Department choose to do constituted abuse of discretion. That means if a judge, and counsel for the child determine a given placement or service is in a child’s best interest, and the Department disagrees, it is very hard to overturn what the Department does; the child’s best interest does not control.
In the OpEd cited above, Family Ties Tightened, the authors state:
Working with children and their families in the home is the most effective means of helping troubled children while keeping families together. It also creates the best outcomes for children while reducing the costs that come from placing children in foster care or residential treatment programs.
the authors go on to state:
MIT’s Joseph Doyle Jr. Has documented the effectiveness of this approach, finding that children who remain in their home have lower delinquency and teen birth rates, are less likely to enter the criminal justice system as adults and have better employment records than similar children in foster care. Improved child outcomes coupled with dramatically lower costs than residential care warrant further budget consideration of in home support services for families involved with DCF.
However, the Department( also called “DCF”, in the past “DSS”)also had been spending more on consultants than the services children and family need. To further quote:
Ninety percent of children with open DCF cases actually remain at home or have plans to reunite with their families. Despite this, only 9 percent of DCF’s direct services budget is dedicated to family stabilization and reunification; as a result only 9 percent to 34 percent of families in need of these services receive them. This year’s state budget could hold the key to renewed hope for children and families.
In fact, under the current mode of operations, it has been almost impossible to get funding for anything. DCF no longer pays for urine screens when it is alleged a parent has a drug problem, no contract. Getting any supports for a family is difficult, so much so that some attorneys who work with these families created a foundation and fund raise to get winter clothing or summer camp for kids in DCF care or in struggling families, see One Can Help , a volunteer-run foundation where almost 100% of donations go directly to those in need. I know the founders and help when I can, myself.
By creating a breakout line item, 4800-0040, this dire situation and the real needs of children and families would be much better served and a great deal of grief and money saved in the long run.
Mind you the authors also state:
For some children, foster and residential care is the best and only viable option, but for most it should be a last resort. Most children will do better in their own families and communities, but they need to have the services to support and strengthen their families to help them thrive and succeed.
A breakout line item, 4800-0040 that dedicates and tracks reunification and preservation services is the right thing to do. Thank you Chairman Murphy and Chairman Panagiotakos. This line item both saves taxpayer money and would save families and children. Line item 4800-0040 would be a fine legacy for Senator Panagiotakos.
the sad thing is that is it necessary. An agency that was really dedicated to the welfare of children and to keeping families together would probably not have to be directed through the budget to spend money this way.