A Massachusetts commission that was supposed to deliver recommendations on the expansion of those who would be required to report suspected child abuse or neglect has failed to settle on a path forward.
According to a summary written by the Office of the Child Advocate, the Mandated Reporter Commission came to realize over its many months of work “that there were important voices missing” from its discussions.
The panel’s composition and mandate were spelled out in state law, and so its hands were tied in some sense. But commissioners felt the absence of those voices — especially people with lived experience within the child welfare system — meant any recommendations it might make should be deeply informed by parents, youth and others whose lives would be affected.
Recommendations from the perspective of the range of professionals who work within the systems, while critical, would not be sufficient without that input, wrote Maria Mossaides, who chaired the commission. Therefore, the commission failed to reach a consensus on any recommendations.
The effort nevertheless represented an “important first step” toward a racially equitable child welfare system, said commission member Lisa Hewitt, general counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.
Only at the end of the process did the commission hold a public hearing. She called the testimony of system-involved families “poignant and enlightening” but highlighted the need to do some more work, according to Commonwealth Magazine.
Susan Elsen, a staff attorney in the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s family and child justice unit, was more blunt, saying the inability to move forward “reflected the fact that they weren’t looking at the right problems.”
Elsen said the panel did pinpoint the need to do something about sexual abuse by coaches and a lack of standardized training for mandated reporters, but it didn’t adequately address how expanding the mandated reporter system would solve any problems.
So in the end, the report amounted to a description of the problems Massachusetts faces with its mandated reporter system and a blueprint for further, more inclusive discussion.