October 26, 2015
So here we are..more DCF tragedies piling up since my last update months ago. And thirty five years (35!) since Judge Keeton bemoaned the "unspeakable injuries to body and spirit" suffered by children entitled to the state's protection in Lynch vs. King. Over these many years, the pendulum in policy priorities from "permanency" to "reunification" has swung back and forth more than once, disconnected from the actual real life suffering of helpless children.
I have come to believe that the only possibility for real change will come when we have a radical reordering of priorities and an embrace of every child's right to a safe, nurturing upbringing as paramount to the proprietary rights of adults.
As a formerly vigorous defender of parental rights, I have come to see that endless custody disputes, assertion of the supremacy of biology, insufficiently supported and trained foster care, and manipulation of the courts via wealth and influence continue to leave children voiceless and injured.
One small step in the right direction would be regular appointment of guardians ad litem ("GAL's") or court appointed special advocates ("CASAS") in ALL cases involving custody of children; and allowing foster parents to testify, as they are legally entitled to do, in all cases where they have information on the status and needs of children in their care.
I testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary this summer in favor of H1431, which addresses the foster parent contribution.
So far it is stuck in that Committee, but hope springs eternal. Please contact your Senator and Representative and tell them you support the bill!
March 16, 2015
SO much time has gone by since I began work as an Access to Justice Fellow with MSPCC! I want to update you all on that project.
We are now on the verge of a new and exciting phase.
Although there is federal law mandating foster parents’ right to be heard, and although Massachusetts law somewhat vaguely parrots the federal law, the fact is most foster parents have been discouraged or actually threatened and intimidated from testifying in cases related to the children in their care.
I spent the last year and a half training over a hundred foster parents around the state; developing and publishing templates for them to use to get themselves heard in court; and meeting with Juvenile and Probate Court judges, DCF, the MA Child Advocate and many others to discuss and promote the project.
I am proud to say at then end of this phase I was awarded the 2014 Partnership Award from MAFF, the Massachusetts Association For Families.
The framework having been completed, at the end of 2014 I drafted proposed legislation which would strengthen the right to be heard and allow foster parents the option of submitting their testimony in writing rather than orally on the witness stand. We now have as sponsors the Chairpersons of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons With Disabilities, Representative Kay Khan and Senator Jennifer Flanagan.
Soon, we expect a hearing date to be set, and I am trying to reach many of the foster parents I heard from to tell their stories before the Committee. If you or someone you know has been discouraged or prevented from testifying, please let me know! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When the time comes, I will be asking you to make a phone call to your representatives to ask for their vote to pass this important legislation.
Imagine if every Juvenile and Family Court judge had the benefit of hearing about the actual needs, strengths and status of the child who is the subject of their critical decision! Seems so obvious. Let's make it a reality.