Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives
in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same,
SECTION 1. Chapter 18B of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 6, as appearing in section 10 of chapter 552 of the acts of 1978, the following section:-
Section 6A. The commissioner of social services shall appoint a foster care review director who shall establish an independent foster care review unit, hereinafter in this section referred to as the unit, within the department. Said director shall appoint, subject to the approval of the said commissioner, the members of the unit who shall be employees of the department, shall devote their time exclusively to case reviews, and shall convene and conduct administrative case reviews of the status of each child in the care of the department at least once every six months. Such reviews shall be performed by panels consisting of one member of the unit and two other persons, at least one of whom shall not be an employee of the department and represent to the maximum extent feasible the various socio-economic, racial and ethnic groups served by the panel. No panel member shall be the social worker with direct case responsibility for the child whose case is being reviewed or the immediate supervisor of said social worker. Such reviews shall be held at convenient locations throughout the commonwealth and shall be chaired by the member of the panel from the unit. Panel members shall have sufficient experience or training to enable them to make recommendations.
The purpose of the case review shall be to determine: (a) the necessity and appropriateness of the child's continued placement; (b) the extent of the parties' compliance with a written plan which has been developed between the department or its agent, the child's parents, and the child, where appropriate, and which states actions which must be undertaken within specified time limits by all parties to achieve identified service goals; (c) the extent of progress which has been made toward alleviating or mitigating the causes necessitating the child's placement; and (d) a projected date by which the child may likely be returned to his parents or guardian, or placed for adoption, or have a guardian appointed other than the department or its agent.
The department shall promulgate regulations for the conduct of case reviews. The regulations shall include, but not be limited to, standards for the conduct of the reviews; for the initial and ongoing training of the members of the unit and of the panels; for the participation by the social worker with direct case responsibility for the child, the child's parents, the child, where appropriate, and such other persons whose participation may be helpful; for adequate notice to all participants of the time and place of the review; for a written report of the panel's determinations and recommendations; for an appeal to the commissioner of social services, or his designee, by the social worker, the parents, or the child aggrieved by the panel's determinations and recommendations. The decision by said commissioner or his designee shall be final.
Administrative case reviews shall not be subject to chapter thirty A; provided, however, that nothing in this section shall prevent the exercise of any right of review a party may have pursuant to any other provisions of law.
The director of the unit shall submit an annual report to the governor and the general court on the performance of the unit. Such report shall contain an analysis and evaluation of the foster care review system and recommendations, if any, for its improvement; the total number of children in the care of the department or its agents during the previous fiscal year; the number of children who were in their care for more than six months; the number of reviews conducted; the number of children returned to their parents or guardian; the number of children for whom guardians, other than the department, or its agent, were appointed; the number of children released for adoption; and the number of children adopted.
SECTION 2. Section 24 of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in chapter 182 of the acts of 1983, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence:- Any child may be committed to the department under this section without a hearing or notice with the consent of the parent or parents or guardian.
SECTION 3. Section 29 of said chapter 119 is hereby amended by striking out the first sentence, as appearing in chapter 501 of the acts of 1978, and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- Whenever a child is before any court under subsection C of section twenty-three or sections twenty-four to twenty-seven, inclusive, or section twenty-nine B, said child shall have and shall be informed of the right to counsel at all hearings, and if said child is not able to retain counsel, the court shall appoint counsel for said child.
SECTION 4. Said chapter 119 is hereby further amended by inserting after section 29A the following section:-
Section 29B. Within eighteen months of the original commitment, grant of custody or transfer of responsibility of a child to the department by a court of competent jurisdiction and every twelve months thereafter while the child remains in the care of the department, the committing court shall reconvene, in accordance with rules established by the chief administrative justice of the trial court, to determine the future status of the child, including but not limited to whether or not it is in the child's best interests to be returned to the parents; to be continued in substitute care for a specified period, after which the child is to be returned to the parents or guardian; to be placed in another permanent placement; to be placed for adoption; to have a guardian, other than the department, or its agent appointed; or, because of the child's special needs or circumstances, to be continued in substitute care on a permanent or long-term basis in a specific placement.
Upon making its determination, the court may make any appropriate order as may conduce to the child's best interests including, but not limited to, orders with respect to the child's care or custody.
A child, parent, guardian or the department may appeal to the appeals court from the determination or order of the trial court. The claim of appeal shall be filed in the office of the clerk or register of the trial court within ten days following the court's determination or order. Thereafter, said appeal shall be governed by the Massachusetts rules of appellate procedure. The scope of appellate review shall be limited to abuse of judicial discretion.
SECTION 5. Said chapter 119 is hereby further amended by inserting after section 29B, inserted by section 4 of this act, the following section:-
Section 29C. Whenever a court of competent jurisdiction commits, grants custody or transfers responsibility of a child to the department or its agent, the court shall certify that continuation of the child in his home is contrary to his welfare and shall certify whether or not the department or its agent, where appropriate, made reasonable efforts, prior to the placement of the child in substitute care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removal from his home; or shall certify whether or not the department or its agent, where appropriate, made reasonable efforts to make it possible for the child to return to his parents or guardian. Failure by the court to certify that reasonable efforts were made shall not preclude the court from making any appropriate order with respect to the care and custody of the child.
SECTION 6. The department of social services shall conduct a full review of state laws, policies and procedures governing the placement of children in foster care through voluntary agreements between the department and the parents of a child. Such review shall include an examination of circumstances under which voluntary agreements are signed, extended and terminated and shall determine if said laws, policies and procedures effectively meet the needs of children and families.
In conducting such review, the department shall compile the following information:-
(1) the total number of children placed in foster care through signed voluntary agreements in fiscal year nineteen hundred and eighty-four;
(2) the number of children who have been voluntarily placed in foster care for six months or less; six to twelve months; twelve to eighteen months; eighteen months to two years; two years or longer;
(3) the number of children in voluntary foster care who have been placed: (i) with relatives; (ii) in the same foster care home with siblings; (iii) in different foster care homes from siblings; (iv) in foster care homes outside their school districts and communities.
The department shall submit the results of its review, its findings and recommendations to the house and senate committees on ways and means and to the joint standing committee on human services and elderly affairs within three months of the effective date of this act.
SECTION 7. Sections one, three and four shall take effect on July first, nineteen hundred and eighty-five; provided that, until January first, nineteen hundred and eighty-six, the administrative case reviews required by section one may be performed by one member of the foster care review unit.