House passes foster care 'bill of rights' measure backed by Tricia Farley-Bouvier

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After years of efforts to increase support for foster families, the Massachusetts House passed a bill that includes a "foster parent bill of rights."

Local advocates worked with state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, on crafting those measures. They say the bill, passed Thursday, would ensure foster parents have access to information and training, as well as greater recognition and respect.

"We have to make sure we can do whatever we can to retain foster parents and recruit new ones," Farley-Bouvier said. "Otherwise, the system doesn't work."

The measure's reforms must still win favor in the state Senate and, if they advance, the governor's signature.

Nancy Scannell, director of external affairs for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, praised Farley-Bouvier's work on the measure. "We think of it as kind of a road map for both foster parents and [Department of Children and Families] to use to guide the ways that they engage."

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Many foster parents have been given insufficient information and not treated with respect, said Kim Borden, a former foster parent liaison through the Department of Children and Families and a foster parent herself. Foster parents would often have a child brought to their home with only the child's name — and not even a date of birth.

"If you're expected to be caring for a child, you'd like to know: Are they allergic to peanuts?" Farley-Bouvier said. "How old are they? Do they have a nickname they prefer? What are their behavioral health issues?"

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The bill comes as "the perfect time," said Borden, since the DCF itself has ramped up efforts to support foster parents n the last year, both on the state and local levels.

"I'm getting a sense of a real commitment to want to work with foster parents. As much as I would've loved to have seen this happen 15 years ago, I think we are in a really good place," Borden said.

Work on the bill has led to greater collaboration, according to Scannell.

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In a speech during the House's session, Farley-Bouvier said it is important to keep DCF programs well funded through the current recession, given increased stresses placed on foster parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is not difficult to conclude that in times of economic crisis, our most vulnerable families need more help, not less," Farley-Bouvier said. "And indeed there are more, not less families that are falling into crisis."

Her remarks followed a speech by state Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, who shared a story about a friend who had a disappointing experience with the DCF as a foster parent. Similar stories from foster parents, Farley-Bouvier said, underscore the need for a legislative response.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.


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