Monday, March 24, 2014

NASW Steps Up House in the State House

This Tuesday, March 25th  marks one of the highlights of the MA Chapter’s commitment to legislative advocacy, LEAD (Legislative Education and Advocacy Day).  Over 700 social work professionals and students will convene at the Grand Staircase, Hall of Flags, and in Gardner Auditorium to prepare themselves for the lobbying event of the year.  Tomorrow  attendees will become intimately familiar with NASW-MA Chapter’s legislative agenda so they can then meet with their legislators.  Together they will promote the professional and social/economic justice priorities that serve social workers and the individuals and communities that social workers serve.

Governor Deval Patrick will address the group as he proclaims March as Social Work Month. State Treasurer, Stephen Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley will add their support to the Chapter’s legislative agenda.  To top it off, flying from the front façade of the State House will be the most enormous social work banner ever to appear in public.

This confluence of social work clinicians, organizers, faculty, researchers, administrators and planners is the compelling profile of this wonderful profession.

The Voice of Professional Social Work will be echoing throughout Beacon Hill.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Who Is Responsible?

Last week I attended a meeting with DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and a group of child welfare stakeholders who were briefed on the imminent release of the Child Welfare League of America’s (CWLA) Progress Update to Governor Patrick and Secretary Polanowicz.  This is the interim report of the ongoing independent investigation of the Department of Children and Families, the culminating report to be released in May.

Click HERE for the Report

CWLA is one of several groups investigating the recent disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year old boy, along with the longer standing issues impacting the delivery of services to children and families involved with DCF across the state.   In turn, the Office of the Child Advocate did an inquiry and the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight is in the midst of its investigation.  The Department has also performed its own study. 

Everybody wants someone, or someone else to DO SOMETHING about DCF.  It is true that some of us (i.e. child welfare agencies, SEIU, NASW, etc.) are some of the key groups that have visible and even legal accountabilities.  Responsibility for the current state of child welfare in the Commonwealth is not restricted to these easily identified groups.   It is ALL of our responsibility.  Our neighbors, family members, school personnel, the mailman who comes to the door daily, along with those individuals in the medical profession.  The task of looking after members of our communities who may be compromised by a complex combination of mental and physical health issues, poverty, generational domestic violence, homelessness, joblessness and addictions, belongs to all of us.

Recently, I developed an interest in ancient society’s view of family and child welfare.  I found that 4,500 years ago papyrus scrolls placed in pyramids spelled out acts of mercy that society members had to follow.  3,000 years ago the Mosaic code instructed the Jewish people to help the poor and disadvantaged people and in 530 BCE Siddhartha, the Buddha, taught that the path to enlightenment included love and charity to others.  There was no Department of Children and Families in ancient times, no Riversides, Waysides or MSPCCs…just everyday people looking out for each other.  True we have become more specialized 6,000 years later with the advent of groups performing the functions that all early peoples were expected to perform.  However the development of these fairly modern (at least post Romanic) institutions still does not exempt  the rest of us who are not officially  ‘in the business’ from watching out for our brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors and friends.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Breakfast at Emmet’s…A Far Cry From Tiffany’s But Just As Valuable

Emmet’s, you ask?  It’s that cozy little eatery down the street from the NASW office on Beacon Street, known mostly for its lunches and dinners.  Now that the legislative session is in full swing however, more and more legislators are scheduling their “meet and greets” and fundraising events for the breakfast hour.  This is where the Chapter’s new Director of Government Relations and Political Action, Devin Romanul and I rendezvoused last week to meet with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and other legislators about the Chapter’s legislative agenda.  The guests, primarily representatives from human service organizations, had a unique chance to brief the Speaker on the details of their program’ goals, missions and challenges.  High on the list for our Chapter were loan forgiveness for social workers, increased compensations for clinicians, as well as the professionalization of the social work field.  Since we had just a few moments to highlight some of the Chapter’s legislative priorities, we will be scheduling a more in-depth session with the Speaker and his staff later this month.

Breakfast at the Chapter office is more than just a coffee and a muffin.  It is one of the critical meeting times that brings us the opportunity to be the voice of social work to the people who make public policy.

Monday, March 3, 2014


For the past two months, the press, the legislature, the child welfare world and the public has focused on the startling news of the disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year old boy whose family had a history of being involved with child protective service agencies. The shocking nature of this story can leave one wondering. How could this happen? Where were the school authorities? Where was the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the neighbors, the family members? We look for answers, as we should, and at the same time we look for quick fixes. From my perspective, there are no simple solutions, including the loud call to fire the Commissioner of DCF. It is true that the system, as devoted as it is to protecting children and strengthening families, can and does err in its efforts to live up to these critical goals.

 A huge error occurred in the case of young Jeremiah Oliver, a child who is now presumed dead. When an error such as this is uncovered, the system is then bound and committed to find out how it happened and who is responsible. Beyond holding individuals responsible for their actions, the system must ask what safeguards are now needed to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

This is the process happening right now. Not only is DCF performing an internal investigation but the Office of the Child Advocate as well as the Legislature and the Child Welfare League of America are performing separate investigations. My Letter to the Editor (below) recently sent to both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald conveys NASW's current perspective on the situation. We must avoid quick fixes and knee jerk reactions, trading them instead for thoughtful, diligent actions.

I am in regular communication with DCF, SEIU Local 509 (Social Work Union), and the Office of the Child Advocate to see how we can support the professionalization of the workforce in child welfare. Together we want to strengthen the safety net of care for those children and families involved with DCF and end the destructive negative messaging that is impacting everyone involved.

Often times it is easy to come up with what seems like a quick fix for highly complicated issues, with the impulse to “do something” crowding out more deliberate efforts to address the root of the problem. This pattern has persisted in the three recent cases involving the Department of Children and Families. The inclination to “fire the Commissioner” may make some feel better, but that knee-jerk reaction diverts attention from the more pressing conversation about DCF’s service delivery to families who have experienced generations of abuse, violence, or neglect. The Governor, legislators and the social workers most familiar with these families’ cases need to evaluate what went wrong and how to put mechanisms in place to assure that it will not happen again. The Child Welfare League of America, the Office of the Child Advocate, and the experienced professional social workers at DCF are working in concert to uncover and address the deficiencies in a complex system that allowed for these heartrending situations. Let the child welfare advocates do their work so the children, youth, and families of Massachusetts can experience a stronger safety net of care.