Monday, July 12, 2021

Child welfare in Massachusetts: NCCPR releases in-depth analysis of Mass. Mandated Reporter Commission report

Job One now falls to the Massachusetts Legislature.

Regular readers of this Blog know that we’ve been following closely the work of a commission named by the Massachusetts Legislature to study the state’s mandatory child abuse reporting law.  The Commission released its final report on June 30. 

Today we release our in-depth analysis of that report.  Our analysis, called Failing Job One, is available here. The analysis summarizes our overview of the failure of mandatory reporting and our overview of how the Commission was manipulated, something discussed in detail in our previous posts.  We then go on to examine the report page-by-page. 

Though the analysis is specific to the deliberations of a Massachusetts commission, much of it is relevant in every state, since every state has a mandated reporter law with failings similar to, or, in some cases, even worse than the one in Massachusetts. 

The title of the report is derived from something said by a member of the Commission itself, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan.  Like many Commission members, Ryan was stunned when, after more than a year, the Commission held public hearings and almost every witness opposed the Commission’s draft recommendations.   

That came as a surprise because the Commission chair, the state’s “Child Advocate,” Maria Mossaides, and her allies at the state Department of Children and Families had, in effect, kept the commission in a bubble, staging carefully orchestrated presentations that told the Commission only what Mossaides and DCF wanted them to hear. 

So at the first Commission meeting after hearing from the public Ryan said: 

I spent a lot of years thinking that [mandated reporting] gets us to a better place; I’m disheartened to hear maybe it really doesn’t – and even if it does, perception is reality.  A lot of well-credentialed, well-meaning experts think this doesn’t work. … I was taken aback to hear so much of that conversation. [Finding out if they’re right] should be Job One. 

The Commission wasn’t able to do Job One. Mossaides, and her allies in DCF prevented it.  

Therefore, as we note in the conclusion of our analysis, doing Job One now is the responsibility of the Massachusetts Legislature: 

Unfortunately, most legislators right now are where the dissenting commissioners were before the public hearing – finding it incomprehensible that expanding mandatory reporting is even controversial, much less that it should be curbed or abolished.  In addition to skewing the final report, Mossaides has bragged about her regular meetings with key lawmakers – so she’s had months and months to spin all this without the rest of us even knowing what she’s been saying. 

Maria Mossaides and her allies prevented the Commission from doing “Job One” – taking an in-depth, open-minded look into whether all those scholars, advocates and people with lived experience, and all those researchers who have questioned mandatory reporting for decades, are right.  The Legislature needs to do that job. 

Oops, they’re doing it again 

There’s one more reason why a close examination of the behavior and tactics of Mossaides and DCF is useful: They’re at it again.  Mossaides and DCF Commissioner Linda Spears co-chair a “Data Work Group” studying the gathering and presentation of data about Massachusetts child welfare. 

They have been laboring to whitewash – in every sense of the term – the facts about racial bias in Massachusetts child welfare.  To the extent that there is any bias at all, they argue, it’s almost all because of what happens at the “front door” – that is, because of the people who file reports alleging child abuse – you know, people like mandated reporters.  

Yes, that’s right. After spending nearly two years trying to open the “front door” as wide as possible, Mossaides and DCF now are claiming that any racial bias is due to what happens at the front door – and, they say, they have no control over that!