“In Massachusetts, Black and Latinx children are 2.5 and 2.9 times more likely, respectively, to be involved with DCF as white children.”
You can tell a lot about a state and the priorities of its elected leaders by the way it treats children. Or rather, by the way that they treat children, since people should ultimately be held responsible for the way that the youngest and most vulnerable residents are treated.
You don’t have to be a southern conservative governor to point out the hypocrisy of our purportedly progressive state on such matters. Anyone who looks closely enough at our schools and other bureaucracies and who they work and don’t work for will see that Mass has major flaws, sometimes comparably worse than in the southern states which serve as the butt of so many jokes around here.
Just ask Julia Lurie, whose outstanding new Mother Jones feature looks at “Massachusetts’ family separation disaster.” Subtitled “The state took away Bryan Hickson’s newborn son. Why did it take so long for a judge to hear his case?”—the investigation dives into some of the uglier aspects of Department of Children and Families (DCF) operations.
We won’t take up too much of your time here, since you’ll need all the time that you can get to sort through this longread on the very awful process that commonwealth parents have endured to get a hearing after their children were taken away from them. But here’s some background from the article that stands out before Lurie even dives into the history and ineptitude that got us here …
When child protective services removes a child against the will of his parents, state laws typically require a hearing before a judge within a matter of days to ensure that the state made the right decision. The hearings function as a critical check on the power of CPS workers, whose job often entails making quick, life-altering judgment calls with limited information, and whose decisions can be tainted by racial and socioeconomic bias. These court dates are called “72-hour hearings,” because the state law plainly says that DCF can have temporary custody of a child for up to 72 hours after an emergency removal.
In most cases, children who have been removed by DCF ultimately return to their parents, typically after parents have completed mandated services, like addiction treatment and parenting classes—a process that takes months or years. But in 10 to 20 percent of cases, judges decide at the 72-hour hearing that DCF has gone too far, and order the return of children to their parents immediately, according to estimates from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s organization of public defenders. Lengthy delays in those cases are particularly damning, say critics. It’s one thing to keep a family separated because a parent is, for example, in rehab; it’s another thing to keep a family separated because the state is short on lawyers.
The state is effectively stuck between two statutes: one that requires all parties to have legal representation, and one that requires prompt hearings. (Some hearings are delayed for other reasons, such as parents or children waiting on medical records or other pertinent documentation.) As of July of this year, more than 200 parents and children in Hampden County child welfare cases were, like Hickson, waiting for lawyers. As a result, their hearings were on hold.
If past precedents are any indication, this Mother Jones piece won’t receive the kind of attention that it deserves from the Mass media. People like their scoops to originate locally around here, and they certainly don’t like being told that shit they didn’t know about is fucked up in their backyard. Regardless, it’s worth your time. Read it, share it, etc.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.