Hello Valley Patriot Readers,

In late March, we were all devastated to learn of the tragedy involving David Almond, the 14-year-old autistic boy who died last October after being found living in abhorrent conditions.

Fall River police went to the Almond house after receiving a report of an unresponsive person. There, officers found David, bruised, emaciated and living in squalor under the care of his father, who, alongside his girlfriend, were arrested and indicted on charges of second-degree murder.

The loss of David’s life was completely preventable and the result of a series of systemic breakdowns over a long period of time. These missteps were highlighted in a recent report by the Office of the Child Advocate that shined a spotlight on the state Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) failed response to a series of red flags, including forgoing an investigation when an anonymous tip alleged neglect in the Almond household.

DCF had long been involved with the Almond household, removing David and his brothers from their father’s care in 2017. Yet, they would return to Fall River last year, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. DCF’s supervision over the reunification was negligible, as they conducted only virtual visitation and did not bother to follow up when David and his brothers did not return to school. DCF also failed to investigate injuries David suffered, involving a wound to his face.

DCF’s complete failure to protect David was not only unacceptable – it was shameful.

There is no shortage of reforms to be implemented.

For one, the current workforce training curriculum to assess safety and risks to a family is clearly not working and must be overhauled. DCF workers need access to better training in helping children with disabilities who, all too often, are more likely to be maltreated than those without disabilities. There seemed to be no understanding from DCF of the impact David’s disability would play.

Several bills have been filed this session around reform at DCF.

House Bill 88, An Act relative to accountability for vulnerable children and families, establishes a “bill of rights” to help recruit and retain foster parents, updates reunification reviews and requires DCF to establish a formal review policy that creates a managerial review process prior to a decision to reunify children. The bill also requires DCF to notify a child or young adult’s attorney of changes in placement or if the child or young adult is involved in a 51A abuse or neglect report, and the agency under the bill is also required to review policies to improve protocol for complex cases involving multiple social workers and area offices.

Senate Docket 2581, An Act to protect children, would require DCF to conduct a comprehensive review of the department’s practices related to individuals with disabilities and develop a policy to promote positive changes; develop a new reunification policy by setting minimum standards that must be met; review current processes for safety assessment and then develop an evidenced-based process for assessing safety issues, with minimum set standards; and develop guidance and training for their workforce with specific set written standards and policies.

Our youngest and most vulnerable need our help and we need to take bold action. These are just some of the reforms that must be implemented at DCF and I will continue to push hard for their passage.

If you have questions about this or any other issue, please contact me and my team anytime via email at diana.dizoglio@masenate.gov or phone 978-984-7747.

Yours in service,
Diana ◊