DCF handbook shocker: Criminal past doesn't disqualify foster parents
DCF OVERSIGHT: Criteria uncovered by the Herald in a Department of Children and Families manual shows a stunningly permissive set of rules for screening potential foster home parents, allowing a history including sex offenses involving minors, violence such as manslaughter, and drug offenses such as trafficking cocaine and heroin within 1,000 feet of a school.Matt Stout, Erin Smith
Prospective foster parents with rap sheets listing criminal convictions for armed assault, drug trafficking, motor vehicle homicide and even soliciting sex from a minor could be cleared to take at-risk children into their homes under a standing policy at the state's embattled child welfare agency.
The stunning rules, tucked inside the Department of Children and Families' handbook on criminal record checks and updated six years ago, allow foster parents with checkered pasts to take charge of endangered kids in the agency's care.
Among the crimes DCF policy might forgive would-be foster parents after screening their applications:
- Offenses such as inducing sex from a minor, soliciting a prostitute and possessing obscene "pornographic" material;
- Violent offenses, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, armed burglary and involuntary manslaughter;
- Motor vehicle homicide while driving under the influence; and
- A slew of drug offenses, including trafficking in cocaine or heroin within 1,000 feet of a school.
One of the agency's so-called "discretionary" lists numbers roughly 110 crimes applicants can have on their records and still qualify as foster parents. It's far longer than DCF's roster of crimes that would presumptively disqualify foster parent applicants, including murder, indecent assault and battery on a child, and aggravated rape.
DCF officials say they have granted "very few approvals" of foster parents who have committed crimes listed on their "discretionary" list, but the agency was unable to say how many such applicants have passed muster since 2012.
Wendy Murphy, an attorney and victims advocate, blasted Gov. Deval Patrick for allowing DCF to approve foster parents with criminal backgrounds.
"When the policy allows blatantly dangerous adults to become foster parents, you the governor have approved poor quality control standards," Murphy said. "You can't say you are doing your best. If that was true, you would apply stricter standards. That's a leadership issue. ... It's not like there's a constitutional right to be a foster parent."
Spokesman Alec Loftus said the agency needed more time to determine how many convicted criminals have been approved as foster parents because officials are juggling a "queue" of public records requests from media, lawmakers and the Child Welfare League of America - which is conducting an independent review of DCF. Commissioner Olga Roche was also unavailable for an interview, he said.
"While a 2000 Superior Court decision bars DCF and other state employers from automatically disqualifying an individual from employment solely based upon a prior conviction, the Department uses factors such as the nature of a crime, circumstances and time frame to deny an application to become a foster parent if a situation is deemed unsafe," Loftus said in a statement.
State Rep. Paul Heroux, a member of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, said he understands some crimes may carry "extenuating circumstances." But when it comes to a sex crime against a child, "there's no wiggle room around that."
"They should definitely take a second look at that list," the Attleboro Democrat said.
Maria Mossaides, executive director of DCF contractor Cambridge Family and Children's Service, which screens potential foster homes, said the agency does not grant approvals for criminals "easily, even though that stuff is on that list as discretionary."
Mossaides said she and her staff, who oversee about 40 foster homes, tend to be "very conservative" in pushing for such approvals from DCF and won't consider anyone with a record of domestic violence.
She said: "I wouldn't want for my agency to have the responsibility of placing a child in a home where there was anything serious."