Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kids: Overdue Oversight

Divine, Deval!

Our governor used an executive order in the right way yesterday. He created Massachusetts' first ever Office of the Child Advocate. It's a great answer to those who criticize such agencies at the Department of Social Services for either 1) being overly aggressive and unreasonably charging parents and even removing kids, or 2) passively letting thousands remain in abusive homes...with some dying there annually.

The executive order is not up on the governor's site yet, but an article in today's Globe has the basics. These include:
  • This office will be a watchdog with power to investigate abuse allegations
  • It will monitor the state agencies charged with protecting children
  • It can go into individual cases
  • It can recommend policy changes
  • It will review the Departments of Social Services, Youth Services, Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Public Health

However, it is nowhere near as powerful as such offices in some states. It will not be able to "issue subpoenas, hold public hearings (or) sue state agencies."

Even so, the president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was pleased. MaryLou Sudders said, "You need someone who can ask tough questions and has the backing of the governor. The office of child advocate is in response to a series of tragedies and legislative oversight hearings."

Following the recent series here on the self-identified parents-right groups, I see this as working many angles simultaneously. Most obviously, it is a strong answer to parents who think government has no role in protecting children, unless they are abused to hospitalization or worse. Some of those portray the DSS as hyper-invasive police who almost always overreach their goals and authority.

At the same time, there are those few high-profile cases and apparently thousands of others in which kids are abused, often for years. Here, an office that identifies procedure and policy changes can only help.

Specifically, in those few cases of petty bureaucrats gone crazy, being able to identify them is great. The DSS for example can retrain or replace any employees who unfairly try to remove kids from a home or fail to do so when they should.

This is one savvy and overdue use of an executive order. It's not original with Gov. Patrick, but that's fine. He's not ashamed to adapt what works in other states. It's Deval's happy holidays to the kids and parents.

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