Amid ongoing problems with the state’s foster care system, the Department of Children and Families on Tuesday announced an agreement with the union representing the agency’s workers to review staffing and provide more resources to foster parents and social workers.
Baker said now that an agreement has been reached with the union, “We’re going to move forward with it aggressively.
A series of recent news stories in the The Republican / MassLive and the Boston Globe have detailed failings in the state foster care system. Family resource workers, the liaisons between the department and foster families, say they are overworked due to a lack of staffing.
As The Republican previously reported, the state is in the process of revising its foster care policy, which was last updated in 2008. That will include a look at staffing.
The agency already hired 18 foster care recruiters. It plans to add 11 more, so there is one for each area office.
DCF has been running a pilot program in five offices in which a dedicated social worker begins searching for a kinship home, which is a home with relatives, as soon as a child is removed from their parents.
The program has increased kinship placements by 56 percent. Next month, the state plans to expand the program to 10 offices.
Baker would not say whether more money will be needed to add staff. But he noted that the state has added $150 million to the DCF budget over the past four years.
“It’s a place where we continue to make investments, and if it turns out that we need to make additional ones, we will,” Baker said.
In response to concerns about a lack of information provided to foster parents, DCF is launching a new intranet portal, where foster parents can message each other online, message DCF workers and access resources.
Several lawmakers have been advocating for a simple document clearly outlining the rights foster parents have regarding accurate medical information, notice of court dates, access to respite care and advance notification when a child is removed from a home, among other issues.
The department is also trying to better deal with emergency placement situations by developing an after-hours hotline where social workers can call to find emergency homes through a centralized database.
DCF hopes to have that up and running by the fall.
Zwick said DCF appears to be “finally addressing the issues that we’ve been seeing for some time now,” including children who lack stability or spend time sitting in DCF offices waiting for a placement.
Peter MacKinnon, president of SEIU 509, said in a statement that the work of DCF is ever-evolving, and “these reforms tackle a growing need for the social workers and foster parents operating in an overburdened foster care system.