Governor Deval Patrick today signed legislation to reform the Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program, for handling children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant. The legislation focuses on a community-based service network to achieve positive results for children and their families.
"By creating a statewide network of supports, we will help keep more children with their families and schools, and out of the court system," said Governor Patrick. "These reforms will strengthen our communities and families for generations to come."
The legislation, Senate Bill 2410, "An Act Regarding Families and Children Engaged in Services," transforms the 38-year-old CHINS system, which oftentimes puts troubled children in front of a judge before seeking services to help children and their families.
"This is all about empowering our children and families to thrive and succeed in their communities," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. "By keeping youth out of the courts and in their communities and schools, we are increasing their chances at living full and productive lives."
The new law:
Establishes a statewide network of family resource centers to coordinate services for screening, assessment and referrals including: behavioral health and medical services, mentoring, family and parent support and after-school opportunities.
Requires school districts to establish truancy prevention programs that would be offered to habitually truant students before referring them to juvenile court; and
Shifts significant responsibility from the juvenile court and probation department to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services for the current CHINS population, which will now be known as Children Requiring Assistance (CRAs).
"After working on this legislation for seven years, I am thrilled that these new procedures for assisting our children and families in their time of need have been signed into law," said Senator Karen Spilka, lead Senate sponsor of the legislation. "For several decades, the CHINS system has not kept children out of the juvenile justice system as the legislature intended. This will give thousands of children and families who need assistance each year a clearer path to accessing the services and support they need without exacerbating their situation and before it becomes dire. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this critical reform. This is in honor of all those children and families involved in the CHINS system who thought their repeated calls for reform went unnoticed. This is their voice. They have been heard."
"The signing of this law is proof positive that our Commonwealth is wholly committed to improving our children's lives by strengthening the connections at home with their families, in school with their teachers, and in their communities," said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues. "Our schools and human services agencies can, and will, play an integral role in providing community-based services to keep our children in school, at home and out of trouble."
"I am so pleased that the Governor has signed this comprehensive CHINS bill into law concerning children in the Commonwealth who are in need of services. This law will allow a child to reside with their own family or guardian while receiving supportive services, as well as attend their own community school, which will help build and strengthen their relationship with family and self," said Representative Kay Khan, House Chair, Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. "With the signing of this bill into law, we can provide early intervention through HHS agencies and avoid children being dragged through the court system where they might begin to think of themselves as criminals."
"This legislation is the first step in replacing the existing CHINS system, which has not met all the needs of children and families in the Commonwealth", said Representative Paul Donato. "This reform will replace CHINS with a new system that will provide preventative services and keep children in their homes and schools without overburdening courts, police and probation. It will create a statewide system of community-based programs that will provide direct access to mental health or substance abuse counseling"