Mar 192014

Groton’s State Representative, Shelia Harrington (R), is proposing a far-reaching overhaul to the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), starting with the department’s mission, according to a news release issued by her re-election campaign:

In response to the rash of recently uncovered instances of incompetence and mismanagement of cases in the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), State Representative Sheila Harrington of Groton filed a bill at the State House last Friday, March 14, entitled “An Act Relative to the Best Interests of Children”. The legislation, authored by Harrington after reviewing child welfare statutes from around the country, revolutionizes the way the DCF handles matters of parental suitability and custody, by changing the goal of DCF policy to be to act in the best interest of the needs of the child, rather than the current objective, which is to keep a child with his or her family, even if it is to the child’s detriment.

“After hearing extensive testimony about the negligent missteps of the DCF in my position on the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, it has become clear to me that the DCF has demonstrated a systemic failure in their management of cases involving at-risk children in the Commonwealth,” said Representative Harrington, who serves as the Ranking Republican on the Committee. “We need to shift the priority from ‘keeping the family together at all cost’ to ‘what is best for the child’. Although the goal of strengthening the family unit is admirable, and usually preferable, it should not take precedent over the child’s well-being.”

Chapter 119, Section 1 of Massachusetts General Laws currently reads:

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of this commonwealth to direct its efforts, first, to the strengthening and encouragement of family life for the care and protection of children …”

Representative Harrington believes this is an insufficient, outdated standard that values the concept of family unity over that of the safety and well-being of the child. Representative Harrington’s bill is rapidly gaining co-sponsors in the House, and support among voters across the state.

“This aspect of the law hasn’t been substantively amended since 1954,” said Representative Harrington. “It is in dire need of an update, along with many other state laws and DCF policies regarding child welfare. This is just the first of many reforms to the DCF I’ll be pushing for.”

Before being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2010, Representative Harrington studied social work at Providence College, and worked as a family law attorney for over 20 years.

“In addition to the heartbreaking stories I’ve heard from constituents, and the testimony I’ve heard at the State House, as an attorney, I’ve had my own professional experiences with difficult situations involving unfit parents and questionable decisions by the DCF,” said Representative Harrington. “I welcome the cooperation of my colleagues in the House and Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible. Every day without action is another day another child could be put in a dangerous situation, or even lose their life.”