I am working with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) to support their work with the Massachusetts Child Welfare Coalition. MLRI provides statewide advocacy and leadership to advance laws, policies, and practices that secure economic, racial, and social justice for low-income people and communities. They engage in multi-forum advocacy, meaning they work through impact litigation, legislative advocacy, advocacy with state agencies, and community lawyering. The focus on their child welfare advocacy is to ensure that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) meets its mandate to do all that is possible to strengthen struggling families so that children can stay safely at home rather than being separated from their families and placed in foster care. When children must be separated from their parents, they advocate for policies to ensure that they are placed with their relatives rather than strangers, in family settings rather than institutional settings unless their treatment needs require institutional care, and that they be reunified with their parents as soon as safely possible.
Every aspect of their child welfare advocacy has a racial impact because Black and LatinX are disproportionately involved in the Massachusetts child welfare system, as they are in child welfare systems across the country. I am specifically working to support MLRI’s work with other child welfare advocates in the Massachusetts Child Welfare Coalition, which MLRI co-founded at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition is currently working to oppose proposals to expand mandated reporting in Massachusetts, to increase child welfare data transparency, to improve educational access for children in DCF congregate care, and to increase housing and educational options for youth who age out of DCF foster care without permanent families.
I will support the coalition by attending the full coalition meetings and steering committee meetings, writing the coalition’s weekly newsletter, and supporting the activities of the Family Connections work group. I will be taking notes at many of these meetings and conducting research about communities of care and mutual aid networks in New York City to see how they could be a model for Massachusetts. My research project will further the coalition’s mission by gathering information that will inform its legislative advocacy. My research project is a small step that may fuel future conversations that coalition members have with each other, legislators, and the public as they look toward reimagining child welfare in the state. When it comes to social justice, progress often looks slow and is not always linear.
Within the context of my internship, progress looks like having conversations that center children and their families, especially those who are disproportionality effected by the child welfare system. My hope is that the voices of child welfare advocates and impacted families can be heard more so that Massachusetts can learn how to better support families who may be struggling.
Within the span of about a month, I have learned so much. I have gone from knowing little to none about child welfare to understanding various problems in the system and learning how legislative advocacy can help alleviate them for now–and ultimately eliminate them. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait to learn more throughout the rest of the experience.