Boston- State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) on Tuesday voted to protect the children of the Commonwealth through comprehensive changes made within the state’s child service agencies.
“It is our ethical responsibility to ensure protections are in place to keep our children safe and cared for,” said Downing. “This bill addresses many areas of child advocacy and will examine current laws related to child abuse and neglect, strengthen the foster care system to better serve our children, and create an office dedicated to overseeing child protection services across the Commonwealth.”
The legislation creates the Office of the Child Advocate, responsible for examining the quality of child services provided by state agencies and reporting directly to the Governor. In addition to an oversight and ombudsman capacity, the Child Advocate will also be charged with developing a long-term plan to further coordinate and modernize the child welfare system.
Under this legislation, the foster care system sees considerable improvements. The bill extends support for those “aging out” of the system, allowing services to continue for children-turned-adults between the ages of 18-22. Also, in addition to the tuition that is already provided, foster care children will receive fee waivers at all state universities and colleges.
Additionally, the bill establishes a foster care registry to track the success of foster parents in the state system. The system can search for relatives or other adult persons who have positively influenced a child’s life.
The bill also makes several changes and improvements within the Department of Social Services, seeking to change its name to the Department of Children and Families and targeting issues of racial inequality within the department.
Another reform includes the creation of a commission to study the status of grandparents raising their grandchildren.
The bill will now go to the House of Representatives for further action.