Saturday, May 1, 2021

Massachusetts Mandated Reporting Commission: Your guide to what I’ll bet the Commission chair LEAST wants you to hear and read


Photo by Jimmy Emerson

On April 27, I posted about the Massachusetts Mandated Reporter Commission.  Pushed, prodded, led and, I would argue, misled, by the Commission chair, state “Child Advocate” Maria Mossaides, the Commission spent nearly two years drafting recommendations almost all of which would expand mandated reporting and make the system more oppressive. As a sort of special bonus recommendation, Mossaides came up with a proposal that would make it even easier to confuse poverty with “neglect.” 

The Commissioners meant well, but, thanks to Mossaides, it appears they only heard one side of the story – until, at last, the Commission held public hearings.  Commission members said they were “shocked” “surprised” and “taken aback” when almost all of the speakers opposed their recommendations and warned of the dangers of further expanding the child welfare surveillance state. 

Now you can read and hear (though not see) for yourself. 

Nearly two weeks after the second hearing, the Commission has posted audio of the hearings.  There is no explanation for the lack of video.  The audio format makes it harder to follow and much harder to search to find particular witnesses. 

Ideally, of course, everyone would listen to all four hours and read all 53 written submissions. But since that is unlikely (I have not read all the written submissions myself yet) here is a handy guide to the parts of the hearing I’ll bet Mossaides least wants you to know about. 


FIRST HEARING, HOUR 2, starting at 13:37: Western Massachusetts Attorney Michelle Lucier, who represents both children and parents in child welfare cases threw out her prepared remarks to speak from the heart about the horrible and widespread practice of the state Department of Children and Families tearing children from the arms of domestic violence victims.  Note especially toward the end, at about 23 minutes in, when she speaks passionately of the foster children taken in such cases who call her begging to go back home. 

SECOND HEARING, HOUR 1, starting at 12:00: Prof. Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law (and a member of the NCCPR Board of Directors) author of Shattered Bonds: The Colorof Child Welfare, the definitive book on child welfare and race. 

SECOND HEARING, HOUR 1, Starting at 17:00: Dr. Benjamin Levi of Penn State University.  Dr. Levi actually has created a training program for mandated reporters.  Later in the hour, I spoke to take issue with some of his remarks.  But Levi decried the Massachusetts commission recommendations and the typical approach to mandated reporter training, saying at one point: 

I think it is unethical to encourage reports of any and all concerns that a child’s needs are not being met. Systems work by having standards. “When it doubt, report” is not a standard, it’s an invitation for things to go badly; for serious collateral damage despite best of intentions because the very experience of being assessed can be devastating to families already hanging on by a thread. 

SECOND HEARING, HOUR 2, starting right at the beginning at 0:22.  Fortunately one of the most powerful presentations is among the easiest to find, right at the start of the hour: Zoe Russell, a student attorney at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and head of their family practice area. 


Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence “The proposals encourage overreporting and will increase rather than decrease risks to survivors of sexual and domestic violence and their children.” 

Prof. Kelley Fong, who has done crucial, in-depth research on mandatory reporting.  Her statement includes powerful first-person accounts from families she interviewed. 

Dr. Mical Raz, who literally wrote the book on the problems of mandatory reporting, and how we got into this mess. 

The League of Women Voters. Yes, even they’re against the Commission recommendations. 

And, of course, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. 

Some might argue I'm biased because I'm highlighting only testimony from people who opposed the Commission.  But while, as I said, I haven’t read all of the written statements, when it comes to the public hearings almost every witness opposed the recommendations. 

So if you’ve got four hours to spare …