Did DCF return David Almond to his father because he is white?

ADVOCATES SEEKING TO END racial disparities in Massachusetts’s child welfare system now have a powerful legislative ally: Sen. Adam Gomez, the new Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. An oversight hearing this week on the death of Fall River teen David Almond demonstrated just how laser focused on racial equity the Springfield Democrat will be.

Almond, who died allegedly due to abuse and neglect by his father and father’s girlfriend, despite being under DCF supervision, was white. Nowhere in a 107-page investigation by child advocate Maria Mossaides did she mention race. Yet at Tuesday’s hearing, race was foremost on Gomez’s mind.

The first question Gomez asked Mossaides mentioned racial disproportionality in the child welfare system. Did Mossaides’s analysis of the Almond case, he asked, incorporate a racial equity lens and consider whether there was a “racial difference in the treatment of the Almond family with similarly situated families of color?”

In a follow-up interview with CommonWealth, Gomez said families of color are often treated differently than white families in child welfare. He questioned whether David Almond would have been returned to his father’s custody had his father not been white. “Often, the BIPOC mothers and fathers and guardians aren’t given the benefit of the doubt at every turn,” Gomez said, using the acronym for black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Mossaides’s report found that DCF missed numerous red flags that should have alerted social workers to the potential for abuse and neglect if Almond were returned to his father, and once Almond was in his father’s custody. “Those red flags that would have come up during the Almond case really made me think about did they pass through those red flags because they were white?” Gomez asked.

Mossaides and DCF officials have said they cannot explain why certain decisions were made in the Almond case, including David’s reunification with his father. Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services, called some of the decisions “inexplicable.” There has not been any evidence that race played a role.

Mossaides responded to Gomez’s question by talking about a data working group she is involved with, which is analyzing data related to racial disproportionality in DCF cases in an attempt to address the issue. She noted that, historically, child welfare agencies have always focused on poorer families. Given minority poverty rates, that has translated into “a disproportionate surveillance on communities of color,” she said.

Racial issues are starting to bubble to the surface at DCF. CommonWealth recently reported on the disproportionate rate at which Latino children are being removed from their homes. A report by the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice highlighted problems with DCF’s provision of language services to non-English speakers. Meanwhile, a commission chaired by Mossaides that is exploring expanding the laws related to mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse is running into fierce opposition due to concerns that an expansion would worsen racial disproportionality.

Mossaides said in her testimony that she would like the Legislature to give her office money to do a qualitative review of the DCF caseload to determine why racial disproportionality exists, with an emphasis on what happens when a complaint is first filed. “We need qualitative data in order to figure out where the problem is so we can make recommendations about what we think proposed solutions might be to reduce disproportionality,” Mossaides said.

As one of two people of color in the state Senate, Gomez said he feels a special responsibility to minority communities. It is likely no coincidence that Mossaides made her request for study money in response to Gomez’s question a week before the Senate releases its fiscal 2022 state budget proposal. Gomez said Mossaides has not communicated with his office about her request, but if she does, he would “undoubtedly support that.”

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Attorney General Maura Healey, who has said COVID-19 vaccinations should be required for public employees, indicated on Wednesday that she believes inoculations should be mandatory for at least some private workers as well. She specifically mentioned health care workers. The issue has become a key philosophical difference between Healey and Gov. Charlie Baker, who has said he would not favor mandatory vaccinations for public employees (“It’s still a free country, last I checked,” he said) and would leave decisions about private employees to individual employers. Read more.

The Trial Court is within its rights to hold hearings via videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in certain circumstances a criminal defendant should be allowed to postpone a hearing until it can be held in person, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled. Read more.

Virus notes: Mass vaccination sites now offer walk-up services. … Wasted doses rare in Massachusetts. …. Baker cautious on mandating vaccines for school-age children. Read more.

Opinion:

Big demographic changes in the state’s veterans population, with steep overall decreases accompanied by women and minorities accounting for increasing shares of the population, will pose big challenges to the state’s infrastructure for caring for those who have served, says Coleman Nee, a former state secretary of veterans’ affairs. Read more

Gary Klein and Jack McDevitt say Massachusetts gun laws need some updates when it comes to ghost guns, gun hoarding, and assault weapons. Read more.

Green construction projects are the future, but government must do its part to make them happen by providing incentives to builders, says John Rosenthal of Meredith Management. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The House and Senate are taking different approaches on legislation that would institute reforms at the Department of Children and Families. (MassLive)

A proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percent surtax on income of more than $1 million enjoys strong public support, according to a poll conducted by the measure’s backers. (GBH)

A lawsuit alleges that state Rep. Ed Coppinger, a West Roxbury Democrat, stole client lists and proprietary loan information from Needham Bank when he left the bank to take a job at national lender Guaranteed Rate. Coppinger said he had a right to the lists of customers he cultivated. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Former Holyoke mayor Alex Morse closed his federal campaign account by donating money to charities on Cape Cod, where he took a new job as Provincetown town manager, not to charities in Holyoke. (MassLive)

Amherst initiates zoning changes to create more affordable housing. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

At an online community meeting on dirt bikes and ATVs overrunning Franklin Park a lot of views get aired, but little in the way of concrete plans to stem the problem. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Biden administration relaxes rules to allow more health care providers to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. (Salem News)

Some “second generation” COVID vaccines now being tested hold tremendous promise for becoming widely available in hard-hit areas of the developing world, since they have logistical advantages over the main vaccines being used in the US, made by Pfizer and Moderna. (New York Times

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A federal judge strikes down a national eviction ban put in place by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Biden administration is appealing. (NPR)

An outside panel recommended continuing former president Donald Trump’s ban from Facebook, but chided the company for trying to pass the buck on a difficult call and said the company itself should decide within six months whether to make the ban permanent or lift it. (Washington Post)  

ELECTIONS

Attorney General Maura Healey’s campaign committee recently had a “push poll” in the field, testing various questions about her and potential matchups against Charlie Baker or Karyn Polito, an increasing sign of her interest in a run next year for governor. (Boston Herald)

Boston mayoral candidates continued their fundraising push in April, with Acting Mayor Kim Janey enjoying the biggest monthly haul ($206,000) but Andrea Campbell remaining on top when it comes to total cash on-hand ($1,028,000). (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The GE Aviation plant in Lynn wins a nearly $1 billion contract from the US Navy. (Daily Item)

EDUCATION

A third of the Boston Public Schools students who have been invited back to school buildings have opted to remain with remote learning. (Boston Herald)

Joan Vennochi says Dedham High School’s football coach was wrongly stripped of his job because of questions he raised about the curriculum in his daughter’s seventh-grade social studies class. (Boston Globe

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Utility officials make the case for why they want to build a new, controversial natural-gas-powered electricity plant in Peabody. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

If prosecution witnesses are believed by the jury, things got even worse for Jasiel Correia yesterday in his federal corruption trial as a would-be pot shop operator testified that he directly handed the then-Fall River mayor $75,000 in cash as the first installment of a payoff for Correia providing a “non-opposition” letter to his marijuana business, a requirement of the state licensing process. (Boston Globe