mass. DCF is using apartments for foster children amid a housing shortage

However, the policy raised safety concerns for social workers, who cited a recent incident in an apartment where a teenager managed to lock herself in a room and prevent staff from entering. Meanwhile, child advocates see the apartments as another sign of DCF’s failure to provide stable homes for all of the more than 7,000 children in foster care.

“This is indicative of the way DCF has failed to appropriately develop and manage their placement resources,” said Michael Deceda, deputy senior counsel for the Children and Family Law division of the Public Counsel Services Committee, which represents children in early childhood. social welfare system.

The lack of foster homes in Massachusetts had been a problem for years, and children with nowhere else to go would sit in DCF offices that acted as daycare centers or trawl for hours by social workers looking for a bed. Last fall, the Boston Globe reported that children were sleeping in DCF offices due to a lack of beds. The disparity between adopted children and the family available to them has narrowed slightly, but the gap still exists. The number of Massachusetts children in foster care shrank by nearly 17 percent from 2018 to 2022, but the number of licensed foster homes fell 12 percent over the same period, according to data compiled by The Imprint, an independent national news outlet focused on youth and children’s welfare.

Grossman said a staffing shortage in group care homes for children has made it difficult to find beds for people with complex needs, and the administration has allocated an additional budget. $431 million next year to increase the number of beds in group housing for these children.

DCF gained access to the apartments through contracts with two custodial providers, HopeWell Inc., in Dedham, and the Kennedy Donovan Center, in Foxborough, in November, a month after The Globe reported babies sleeping in DCF offices. The apartments, owned or rented by companies, were used as temporary housing for young people who had recently come out of the childcare system, but were vacant when the new initiative began.

DCF said Kennedy Donovan has a four- and five-bedroom apartment in New Bedford that he works with. The company’s contract states that the unit is for young people between the ages of 10 and 18. HopeWell offers apartments for youth ages 12-18 in Boston and Springfield, each of which can accommodate two youth, per the company’s contract with DCF. DCF reports that at least one social worker or social worker is on site when a child is in one of these units.

Management can come to an agreement with companies to place younger children in the units, as the contracts stipulate.

The three apartments cost the department approximately $380,000 through June 2023. DCF budgeted nearly $1 million to cover the projected need for the New Bedford unit alone. This covers costs that include food and staff who supervise and assist with activities such as homework and entertainment, according to the company’s contract.

Children typically stay in the apartments for one to three nights at most, said Ethel Everett, president of the union’s DCF Workers’ Branch, SEIU Local 509.

She said social workers are increasingly relying on apartments as it is becoming more difficult to find other places.

“Instead of being an exception, it’s now almost a prediction,” Everett said.

Other placement options usually include foster families and group care facilities, she said, “and that’s now on the list.”

Although the apartments were for young people with complex needs, Everett said they also hosted recent runaways and children on the move.

“It’s also very isolating for children,” she said. “You’re in an apartment with two employees and you’re isolated there.”

Everett said social workers who work in the apartments may not be familiar with the units or neighborhoods they are assigned, or the child they are caring for, which contributes to staff safety concerns. Everett said the teen who locked herself in a room in Springfield earlier this year was able to turn staff away because of an improperly installed door handle. I ran off the window because the screen also wasn’t installed incorrectly. Everett said the teen returned unharmed.

The improperly installed door handle was an oversight, said Shahir Mustafa, president and CEO of HopeWell, as his company quickly outfitted the Springfield apartment to house the youths. He said the organization has since removed the locks from all doors except the bathroom.

He said a baby cot in an apartment is better than a sleeping bag in a government office.

“There is a shortage of placements, and I think the administration was trying to do something good,” he said. “We can have a conversation about long-term solutions, but in the meantime there are children who need our help today.”

At least one child welfare attorney has agreed. Northampton solicitor Edith Ellen said a teenage girl she represents had spent the weekend at the Springfield flat and described it as “fine”. More troubling than spending a few nights in an apartment, Elaine said, was the fact that her client moved to about 10 different places over the course of two months this spring and summer because of the limited housing options for teens in foster care.

“The problem is, there’s no place for this kid,” Elaine said.

DCF reports that there are 7,345 foster children in Massachusetts, and about 4,720 are likely to be placed in family homes, either with relatives or with adoptive parents. There are approximately 4,000 nursing homes statewide. Other children are placed in group care facilities or with families hoping to adopt them.

several Other lawyers working with children in the foster care system said the state had created its own housing crisis by rushing children out of their homes, rather than supporting struggling families. Massachusetts cut home removals by a third from 2018 to 2022, according to DCF. But, as of 2021, the average number of removals in the state remains flat Exceeded the national average, according to Child Trends, a national nonprofit organization that researches policy issues affecting children. Adopted children in Massachusetts are also more likely to have had four or more placements than children nationwide, according to the Massachusetts Friends of Children group.

Some children’s advocates also fear that a brief placement in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people will be just another shock to young people already facing abuse or neglect at home and being removed from their families.

“A home is so much more than just a room to stay in,” said Christina Freitas, a child welfare attorney. “It’s having a comfortable relationship with that person, getting a hug, and eating a warm meal of the food you’re used to eating.”

Jason Laughlin can be reached at follow him @jasmlaughlin.

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