The state’s Office of the Child Advocate report into the death of 14-year old David Almond makes for very difficult reading for anyone, but it is especially hard to read for those of us who work every day to ensure that the foster youth we serve are not only safe, but thriving.
The 107-page document describes sickening depravity on the part of David’s father and his girlfriend, who have been charged with murder and neglect. Far more disturbing however, is the report’s clinical, almost mind numbing, recitation of one failure after another by employees working for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, the Massachusetts Juvenile Court, and the Fall River school system. Taken together, these failures created the conditions that led to David’s death.
David should be alive today, playing Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Ninja Turtles with his triplet brothers Michael and Noah. He should be entertaining his younger brother Aiden with his by-memory-only recitations of episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. He should be in school, where his presence was so large that his teachers and fellow students nicknamed him “the mayor.”
Instead, David is gone, and his memory will be forever linked with a catastrophic abdication of duty and responsibility by the very people charged with keeping him—and the 30,000 other youth in foster care in Massachusetts—safe.
Those of us who work in child welfare understand how difficult the job is. Many of us have made decisions that have altered the trajectory of a child’s life based on information that was either incomplete or devoid of nuance or both. We know better than anyone else that the layering of one failure upon another that led to David’s death is extremely uncommon. But the fact remains that these systemic failures occurred, and that David died as a result.
That is why HopeWell’s call for reform to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again doesn’t stop with the much-needed recommendations outlined in the Child Advocate report. HopeWell has joined child advocacy organizations throughout Massachusetts in calling on Massachusetts lawmakers to create a foster care review office that is fully independent of the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which houses the Department of Children and Families.
Every state that receives federal funds for child welfare services is required to have a system of foster care review in place, and many of these offices are independent of the foster care systems they are charged with reviewing. But the foster care review office in Massachusetts is housed within DCF. This makes true oversight, transparency, and accountability impossible to achieve.
It is our moral imperative to ensure that every child who enters the child welfare system leaves it better off than they were to begin with. The only way to ensure this is with consistent, accurate, objective, and independent oversight that is informed with timely data that can drive constant iteration and improvement of our child welfare systems.
To learn more, including how you can help, we encourage you to visit Friends of Children, which is organizing the statewide coalition of child advocacy organizations and others, to urge lawmakers to pass “An Acct Establishing The Massachusetts Foster Care Review Office.”