BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday made quick work of a bill that would require the state court system and the Department of Children and Families to keep siblings removed from their parents’ custody together in foster care.
The bill (S 2257) requires DCF, if it determines that separating siblings is necessary, to present a court with “clear and convincing evidence” that a joint placement would be “contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings” DCF would also be required to provide “frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction” between siblings placed separately.
“Whatever the reason for placement, the transition to these placements are very difficult for the children. However, siblings and half siblings who remain together within the system fare better than those who are forced to separate from their brothers and sisters,” Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said during floor remarks Thursday. “The bill requires the courts and the Department of Children and Families to ensure siblings are placed together and in the event of a separate placement, if that is really a necessary item, it requires the department to report to the court within seven business days with the reasons for the lack of the joint placement.”
The bill, which passed the Senate on a voice vote and now goes to the House, would also allow a child 12 or older to petition a court to vacate a previous order terminating the parental rights of that child’s parent or parents.
“In some circumstances … former parents who were previously unfit, unwilling or simply too young to care for their child, make dramatic improvements to their lives long before their former children are adopted or are into adulthood,” Spilka said. “In these instances, former parents may constitute the best placement option for their child and represent the only way to avoid legal orphanhood.”
Spilka said DCF has “acknowledged the importance of keeping the siblings together.” And although guidelines to that effect are incorporated into current state law, she said, the current law “does not provide sufficient remedies for siblings who are forced to separate.”
There was no debate on the bill in the Senate. Minority Leader Bruce Tarr offered an amendment to further define “the best interest of the child,” but he ultimately withdrew that proposal “with the understanding, I hope of everyone in the chamber and beyond, that this is an important subject and we want to continue to work on it.”
Copyright 2016 State House News Service