Massachusetts News

How to Reform DSS

Massachusetts News
By Nev Moore
May 27, 2000

1. Have Inspector General

No one denies that DSS is constantly in serious trouble and needs someone to help reform it. An Inspector General, who would investigate egregious cases, must be totally independent and report to a Board composed of the Governor, the legislature, independent lawyers, doctors and others. It should not report to the Attorney General or any other person. This type of Board is already required under federal law, but the state has chosen to ignore the law. There is also a state law, Chap. 18B, sect. 13, which requires the Commissioner to appoint a citizen board in each of the DSS local offices, but he has also ignored this statute. These laws are faulty anyway in that the Commissioner should not have any control over this Inspector General. He should report only to the Board.

2. Remove A Child Only for a Crime

Our courts are failing the children of the Commonwealth. The children are being snatched from their parents without due process of law because the courts have allowed the state to say that this is merely a "civil" matter. Therefore this is being done without a hearing because the rights of "due process" do not apply in that it’s not a "criminal" matter. This is terrible. No child should be taken from his home without the consent of the parents unless a hearing has been held or unless there is a real emergency. 

3. Eliminate the Juvenile Court

One reason that our courts are failing our children is because we have a "special" Juvenile Court which deals only in cases involving children. Therefore, the judges become a part of the "system." They work with the social workers constantly and get to know them as colleagues. They are no longer independent judges.

4. Eliminate Federal Money

Everyone agrees that the federal monetary incentives and bonuses are creating a feeding frenzy among the DSS administrators across the country to get more and more children into their care. The number of children in the DSS system in Massachusetts has gone from 2000 in 1980 to 12,000 today. DSS receives over $90 million a year from the federal government as a result. Everyone agrees that once a child is in DSS care it is a terrible thing. Therefore, we should be trying to keep children out of DSS control — not have incentives to get them in.

5. Eliminate ‘Cozy’ Relationships With Private Companies

We must eliminate the cozy relationships between DSS and its privately owned contractors. This is a tremendous incentive for corruption.

6. Eliminate Mandatory Reporting

Although mandatory reporting to the DSS by doctors, dentists, teachers and other professionals about possible abuse of children is excellent in theory, it does not work in practice. Those doctors and other professionals are much more competent to judge whether a case should be reported than a 22-year-old social worker. Let’s allow those professionals to use their judgment. In addition, just think of the time and money the DSS spends in collecting and storing all of these reports. Although they may have some discretion now, the professionals believe that the best path for them to follow is to report everything.

LONG TERM GOALS

Not everyone will agree with the following reforms. As a consequence, these reforms will take longer to accomplish. 

1. Allow Poor to be Helped by Private Charities

Social workers were started in this country by private charities, mostly Christian and Jewish, who helped people adapt to the problems they were facing. Those original workers did not see themselves as policemen who were to judge the people as the social workers do today. We would be much better off if private charities helped the poor once again — with no money or control coming from the state. 

2. Abolish BU’s School 

The vocational, technical school, School of Social Work, hands out degrees all the way up to Ph.D. and is totally autonomous and independent. It was established at Boston University in 1940. Instead of presenting courses in psychology and other subjects aimed at a vocational level, it would be much better to have these types of courses in the psychology department and others at the University. 

3. Separate Government and Religion

We’re very proud that we have "separated church and state" in Massachusetts — but the truth is that we live under the religion of Humanism. The Humanists agree that they are a religion. Their website quotes one of their scholars, "Humanists have been debating the question of whether humanism is a religion for years, and many are now tired of that debate, considering it only a semantic question." They also say, "Religion is primarily a thing, not of beliefs or organization, but of the deepest emotions of human life, of emotional drives, attitudes, aspirations….Religion is a way of life, not a kind of belief or a particular organization." The U.S. Supreme Court has stated it this way, "We agree, of course, that the State may not establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus ‘preferring those who do believe in no religion over those who do believe.’"

4. Put Judges Under Local Control

We should revert to county control of the courts. This power should not be coming from Beacon Hill. We would have to do something with Middlesex County because of its size, but that is not insurmountable. The judges should be elected by the people so that there is some accountability and they should be residents of their community.