Friday, June 1, 2007

"Assessing impact at the DSS"

On June 1, 2007, the Boston Globe published Atty. Rich's Letter to the Editor (with another) under the title above.

Here's the letter:

RE GEORGE Bachrach's May 25 op-ed, "Against odds, Spence transformed lives":

I take issue with Bachrach's implication that caseload problems at the Department of Social Services are entirely a function of underbudgeting.

In my 25 years as a lawyer representing children and parents involved with DSS, I have seen that a large part of the agency's caseload problem comes from ineffective triage, failure to use existing family and community supports, and creation of distrust in the families that come to its attention.

DSS tells parents, "We are here to help," but the only "help" it offers are multiple meetings with its workers, one-size-fits-all service plans that refer parents to therapy, and a threat of removing the children to foster care if there is insufficient cooperation or "progress."

DSS exacerbates the problem by insisting that outside professionals report the slightest suspicion of abuse or neglect.

If DSS wants to cut its caseload, it should screen these reports more effectively instead of pressuring professionals who may legitimately think that DSS involvement is the last thing that a slightly troubled family needs.

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

It's in the Globe online at


Anonymous said...

Good points. Experienced pediatricians and savvy teachers are likely to be in a better position to determine whether there is a real risk than any 23-year-old staffing the Hotline. A system that intervenes when it shouldn't, and fails to act when it should, is in dire need of something besides just additional funds.

Anonymous said...

I was very impressed by your insights and comments of this little known area of public justice. What would you recommend as a course of act? how could the public initiate a course of action that could install a system that worked more effectively?

MLR said...

Of course there are many different areas in which DSS needs to be overhauled. In regard to the specific areas addressed in my letter to which the above comment was appended, I would suggest the following at a minimum:

1. The legislature must pay more active attention to DSS and oversee it at times other than when there have been serious tragedies;

2. DSS must be accountable to the courts that place children with them;

3. There must be some discretion in the mandated reporting law (General Laws chapter 119, section 51A) to allow a professional working with a family who suspects abuse or neglect to determine whether a report or some other intervention is more likely to benefit the child;

4. A higher standard of proof should be required before DSS can force itself into the life of a family or remove a child from his/her family;

5. There must be a procedure for meaningful review in a timely fashion if parents disagree with DSS's determination to "support" an allegation that a child has neglected or abused.