• September 2009
  • Vol. 10, No. 7

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Massachusetts DCF Focuses on Keeping Children in School

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) is committed to ensuring that children involved with the department attend school. This goal has had extensive ramifications for the State, and the results are impressive. Massachusetts' ratings on the Federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) for meeting the educational needs of children went from "area needing improvement" in 2001 (with an 86-percent rating) to "strength" in 2007 (with a 96-percent rating) as DCF worked to ensure that children did, in fact, attend school and receive appropriate educational services.

According to Susan Stelk, the DCF Manager of Education Services, "The child welfare system has a responsibility to keep kids in school. We have to be the parent for children who come into our care, and a good parent makes sure that children get the educational services they need." This focus has led to a number of impressive initiatives centered on building strong relationships between child welfare and school systems throughout Massachusetts.

One of the most far-reaching initiatives has been the creation of the Education Coordinator position in all 29 DCF area offices. In a State with more than 370 school districts—each run by its own school committee—it is especially important to have an individual in place who knows the ins and outs of the local school system and can serve as a liaison between DCF and the schools. The Education Coordinator provides expertise in problem-solving, special education, school placement and enrollment, and the requirements of both the child welfare and educational systems. Working out of the DCF office, the Education Coordinator helps develop Individual Education Plans, provides training, and serves as the point person when caseworkers or educators need help with a school problem involving a child in the care of the State.

Other efforts have also strengthened the relationships between DCF and the school systems. At the State level, a series of online newsletters published by DCF called Info for Educators has provided crucial information to educators about the child welfare system. The newsletters explain the roles of caseworkers, answer frequently asked questions, discuss new initiatives, and provide contact information for DCF staff. Another initiative at the State level has been an ongoing collaboration between the DCF managers and the Administrators for Special Education of local school districts. This partnership has led to joint meetings and action plans for improving communication and services for children in foster care.

Training has been an important component of the effort to ensure that children attend school and receive appropriate educational services. New caseworkers learn the importance of education in their core training. Education Coordinators provide more detailed training to caseworkers on enrolling children in schools, monitoring their education experiences, and advocating for them when necessary. Foster parents receive training in educational advocacy as part of assuming the role of Special Education Surrogate Parent for those DCF children who are identified as having special education needs.

For Massachusetts' older youth in foster care, DCF has created the Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood (PAYA) program. PAYA focuses on helping youth acquire life skills and ensuring that youth graduate from high school and have the opportunity to go on to technical school or college. An array of State and Federal scholarship programs supports these efforts.

For more information, visit the Massachusetts DCF website:


Many thanks to Liz Skinner-Reilly, Department of Children and Families, and Susan Stelk, Director of Education Services, for providing the information for this article.

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