Senator Spilka Launches a Coalition to Call for CHINS Reform as Families and Youth Give Voice to the Need for Change
Pictures from the CHINS to FACES press conference in the Senate Reading Room before the hearing.
Senator Karen Spilka was joined by her colleagues as well as parents, youth, and advocates at a packed hearing before the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Senator Spilka lead the FACES coalition in calling for the replacement of the failing Children in Need of Services (CHINS) system with a new Families and Children Engaged in Services (FACES) system. Senator Spilka, the former Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities has been working on this reform since 2005.
“For nearly 40 years the CHINS system has not been working as was intended by the legislature to keep children out of the juvenile justice system,” said Senator Karen Spilka, lead Senate sponsor of An Act Regarding Families and Children Engaged in Services (S.66, H. 1294). “Our communities are better off when we provide preventive services that are proven to keep kids in their homes and schools and avoid using the courts, police and probation to solve family issues. FACES marks a big improvement over the so-called system we have now.”
“I am excited to be working alongside Co-Chairwoman Khan and the Committee on this very important piece of legislation,” said Senator Michael Rodrigues, Co-Chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “This legislation has been carefully drafted after much research by Senator Spilka. The bill offers children an improved means of support and services. I’m pleased that we are addressing it in our very first hearing.”
The FACES Coalition, lead by the Children’s Mental Health Campaign, The Children’s League of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Alliance for Families, is pressing for swift passage of change that they see as long overdue.
“Since its inception in 1973, the effectiveness of the CHINS system has been called into question. I have listened to hundreds of stories from families who filed a CHINS in an effort to remain together and were torn apart by the system,” said Cheryl Haddad, president of the Massachusetts Alliance for Families. “Passage of this bill cannot happen a moment too soon.”
“It is important to provide families with intervention services,” said Representative Paul J. Donato, lead House sponsor of An Act Regarding Families and Children Engaged in Services (S.66, H. 1294). “This bill transfers the initial intervention from the juvenile court system to community based and family and child focused agencies”.
Erin G Bradley, coordinator of the Children’s Mental Health Campaign, emphasizes that the current system is especially problematic for the more than 50 percent of CHINS involved youth with diagnosed mental illness. “What these youth need is access to treatment and support to help them build strong connections with their families and communities—this is the role of schools and human services, not the courts,” said Bradley.
As Jessie Winfrey, a formerly CHINS involved youth, said in his testimony at the hearing, “the CHINS and court involvement made things much more difficult for me and my family than if we had gotten family counseling which would have been a lot more appropriate.”
FACES would create a statewide community-based intervention system to replace the current jumble of services that vary widely from district to district and are very uneven in terms of their effectiveness. The bill would provide for more expedited juvenile court procedures, which will facilitate access to services and prevent indefinite stays in the State custody. It also would establish mandatory school-based truancy prevention programs.
Barbara Talkov, executive director of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, whose members were among the leaders in the development of FACES said, “the need for a community-based services system while still maintaining the opportunity for juvenile court intervention is vital to keeping children healthy and safe and supporting and strengthening families. FACES is a better alternative for youth and families, it diverts them from a legal process when not needed and prevents parents from unnecessarily losing custody of their children in order to receive services.”
Early support from legislative leaders, including Chairman Rodrigues and Chairwoman Kay Khan, make advocates optimistic that the bill will become law this year.
“We as a Commonwealth, must do all that we can to provide and protect comprehensive programs for the benefit of all Families and Children Engaged in Services, which in turn protects the health and welfare of all children and families in Massachusetts, said Chairwoman Khan. “I look forward to working with all parties involved to move this bill swiftly through the legislative process.”
The Children in Need of Services (CHINS) system was created to correct the behavior of children who: “are habitually truant, runaway from home or refuse to obey the lawful and reasonable commands of their parent(s) or guardian(s) and/or the rules of their school”. The program is based in the juvenile court and probation and deals with troubled children in isolation. More than 50% of CHINS involved youth have diagnosed mental health disorders. It fails to adequately meet their needs, and in some instances makes things much worse. One of the main goals of FACES is to prevent children from becoming involved with the juvenile court. This bill transforms the system to be family and child focused and community based. FACES would integrate school and community based services with juvenile justice interventions to keep children healthy and safe. It supports and strengthens family connections; provides family services in the least restrictive environment possible; prevents children from becoming criminally involved; and eliminates the necessity for parents to lose custody of their children in order to receive services. Passage of this bill would bring the Children’s Mental Health Campaign one step closer to achieving its goal to ensure that all children receive the highest quality mental health care. For more information, please visit: http://www.mspcc.org/faces.