CHINS/FACES Legislation out of Committee
BOSTON — On May 20, the joint committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities issued a favorable report on S.66/H. 1294, An Act Regarding Families and Children Engaged in Services, which would reform the way the Juvenile Court and the agencies of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services respond to children in crisis because of behavioral difficulties.
In 2005 Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) and Representative Paul Donato (D-Medford) called together a task force to explore the Commonwealth’s and other states’ practices and laws around the CHINS system. More than 100 stakeholders participated in this effort. The legislators also convened monthly steering committee meetings, as well as various subcommittees. In January of 2007, Senator Spilka filed new legislation, based on the task force’s recommendations and other states’ best practices, to reform the CHINS system.
“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 the bill. “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. These bills put in place new procedures – a system for Families and Children Engaged in Services – FACES. It marks a big improvement over the system we have now.”
The bills are supported by a FACES Coalition led by the Children’s Mental Health Campaign, The Children’s League of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Alliance for Families.
“This bill replaces an ineffective system with a system that provides children and families with the kind of ‘wrap-around’ services that keep children out of trouble and the court,” said Representative Paul Donato, lead House sponsor of the bill.
Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Senate Chair of the joint committee, commented on the favorable report. “This great piece of legislation has been in the works for a long time.” He stated, “I am happy to favorably report the bill out of committee”.
Kay Khan (D-Newton), House Chair, congratulated Senator Spilka and Representative Donato on their commitment to the children and families of the Commonwealth. Rep. Khan stated, “Without their willingness to tackle this enormous task positive change would not take place for the children who need these services and the families who struggle to access them.”
FACES creates 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 divert families from a legal process when not needed and prevents parents from unnecessarily losing custody of their children in order to receive services. For families that do need judicial intervention the bill provides for more expedited juvenile court procedures, which will facilitate access to services and prevent indefinite stays in DCF custody. It also would establish mandatory school-based truancy prevention programs.