25 Investigates: Foster mom claims DCF disregarding concerns of child in her care

Afraid and frustrated. A local foster mom turned to 25 Investigates claiming no one was listening to the fears and concerns that the child in her care has been expressing for months.

“It’s DCF’s game of playing chess with children,” said Massachusetts foster parent, Cathy Joyce.

Joyce claims the girl told her social worker and her attorney that her younger sister was bullying and abusive, but the Department of Children and Families plans to reunite them anyway.

Joyce says the girl, whom Boston 25 News is only referring to as ‘D’, came to her home 9 months ago with medical and emotional health issues.

“It took her a good three months before she would hold her head up,” Joyce said. “Didn’t see her smile.”

But Joyce says since then she’s watched the child flourish at home and at school.

“Oh, my God. She smiles now,” Joyce said “She’s fun. I have a Jeep. We go to lots of Jeep events. She loves it.”

Earlier this year, Joyce says DCF informed her they planned to remove “D” from her care and place her in a different foster home where, eventually, she’d be reunited with her younger sister.

“And what did they say,” asked anchor and investigative reporter, Kerry Kavanaugh.

“That it’s in her best interest,” Joyce said. “This sister is physically abusive to her. She has verbally spoken to her social worker. Don’t make me do this. I’m afraid of her. She notified her attorney- I don’t want to live with her.”

Joyce says she too has shared these concerns with department social workers and case managers. She believes the allegations were ignored. And, she also claims the attorney who represents ‘D’ also represents her sister.

25 Investigates spoke with an expert who says, if true, that’s a clear conflict of interest.

“It’s black and white. There is no gray here. Once a child makes an allegation, whether it’s true or not, you then can’t continue to represent those two children because one is a perpetrator, a potential perpetrator, one is a potential victim,” said Terry Craven, retired First Justice for the Suffolk County Juvenile Court.

She is not affiliated with this case but helped Kavanaugh sort through some of the allegations.

“The second thing is that it worries me, if true, that the department [DCF] is not telling the foster mother that she has the right to be heard in the court,” Craven said.

As 25 Investigates has reported the Department of Children and Families has been under scrutiny for how it represents the “best interest” of children since the murder of another Massachusetts foster child, Harmony Montgomery.

Harmony was four years old when a Massachusetts judge ruled she could move to live with her father, a man she barely knew, to New Hampshire. That man, Adam Montgomery is now indicted in her murder.

Harmony spent much of her young life in the care and custody of DCF. 25 Investigates found thousands of children are spending much of their lives in state care, living in limbo.

Lawmakers and the Office of the Child Advocate have asked DCF and the state to examine how is it weighing the best interest of children in cases across the board. Former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker even made a push for a guardian ad litem to be appointed in every care and protection case.

DCF says in the wake of that, it has enacted policy changes including developing a protective case practice policy that “reinforces assessment of child safety as well as service provision and supports to the family.”

Citing confidentiality, the department wouldn’t comment about ‘D’’s case. DCF says it works to keep siblings together in foster care “whenever it is safe to do so.”

A department spokesperson added: “The Department of Children and Families takes very seriously its role to keep children safe and balance best interests with parents’ legal rights to have custody of their child. Family dynamics are often complex, and for this reason, the Department involves other parties, including the child’s attorney, family members, the courts, foster parents, medical professionals, teachers, and others to provide us with information when making critical decisions about the child’s safety, well-being and achieving a permanent home through reunification with family, adoption, or guardianship.”

Kavanaugh also contacted ‘D’’s attorney. They too cited confidentiality.

“You’re always, always looking at the level of risk any placement presents to a child,” Craven, the retired judge, said. She added it is possible someone has investigated or vetted the child’s claims and screened them out. But she says typically that would be conveyed to the foster mother.

“Why did you finally turn to us,” Kavanaugh asked foster mom, Cathy Joyce.

“‘D’ has reported it to everyone, and nobody is listening. Nobody is helping,” Joyce said. “I want her to be happy and safe.”

Joyce says DCF plans to remove the child removed from her home on Friday.

DCF says it’s in the process of implementing a new policy that prioritizes foster parent support. You can read that here.

The agency says foster parents can directly contact social worker supervisors and managers, the Department’s Ombudsman, the Office of the Child Advocate, or the child’s attorney if they have concerns about the direction of a case or the child’s safety. They may also file a 51A if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected by a caregiver.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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