The Department of Children and Families (DCF)
This month Homes for Families hosted a Community Meeting where families, providers, senior staff from DCF and other members of the community came together for a conversation. About 35 people attended the meeting and much of the time was used for Q&A with DCF staff.
Thank you to the DCF staff who came to present and engage in conversation with members of the community, including a great presentation by Amy Mullen regarding DCF housing services and Health & Safety Assessments for families applying for shelter.
Amy Mullen, Director of Housing Services
Rebecca Brink, Assistant Commissioner’
The conversation/Q&A at the meeting touched on the broad nature of DCF’s work and what that looks like for families and children experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Below are some of the key concerns that came out of the discussion:
Health & Safety Assessments (EA Eligibility)
More than 60% of families applying for EA shelter cite Health & Safety as a reason for homelessness. DCF conducts Health & Safety Assessments to determine whether the family/children are at risk, and provide this information to DHCD for their EA eligibility determination.
Between July and March of FY ’18, DCF conducted 2,137 Health & Safety Assessments for families applying for shelter.
- There was debate about how private 51A’s are, to what extent they “follow” families, and what the impacts for families are. It is unclear where 51A’s may show up on a person’s record, for how long, and to whom. Concerns were raised about the longstanding impacts 51A’s may have on families’ lives in areas such as housing, restrictions from becoming a foster parent, etc.
- Significant discussion around how families can ask for support, and the realities they may face when doing so. Folks brought up that there is no clear option for families to ask for supports that DCF may be able to offer without having a case opened. DCF stated that when a family calls “on themselves,” if a risk is perceived, the worker will file a 51A.
- Some shelter providers who attended voiced concerns about a new wave of pressure to file 51A’s even when the conditions do not warrant it, especially when the issue has to do with shelter rule violations.
In February of 2018, a point in time count revealed there were 973 families in EA shelter who had open cases with DCF. There was a total of 3,592 families in EA at the time.
Race, class, poverty & DCF
- Both DCF and attendees agreed that race, class & poverty play a significant role in who is targeted for involvement with DCF.
- Many attendees were very concerned about situations where a family has fully completed every aspect of their family reunification plan, but is struggling to secure a stable place to live. The impact of race and class on housing create barriers to family reunification that specifically target people of color and extremely low-income families.
- Attendees stated that the Department has a responsibility to explicitly address the role of racism and classism in their work with families; i.e. how housing instability and other realities that result from institutional and interpersonal racism and/or classism unjustly targets families for scrutiny and a very real threat of family separation.
Questions were raised around how mental health is approached/perceived by DCF and what that means for heads of household who live with any kind of mental/emotional health issue.
Family reunification & the inaccessibility of programs like RAFT/HomeBASE
What happens when stable housing is the only thing standing in the way of family reunification?
More than one community member at the meeting voiced serious concerns around the lack of accessibility to programs like RAFT and HomeBASE for families who may not at that moment be in custody of their children — an unstable housing situation may be the only thing preventing a family from reunification with their children. The conversation focused on taking steps to create a process where families can access housing assistance when that can lead to family reunification.
Do you have questions, comments, or have a lot to say about DCF’s role in families’ lives and in shelter? Join Homes for Families at Visioning Day 2018 on Tuesday, August 14th in Worcester, MA.
Authored by I.W. & N.M., June 25th, 2018