BOSTON -- The Department of Children and Families (DCF) today announced steps to increase child medical visits and enhance documentation of foster care and employee background checks.

These steps build on recommendations made by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the state auditor regarding medical screenings and will help ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children DCF serves.

Collaboration between DCF and its partners in the medical field, more streamlined documentation, and investments in staffing and technology will improve access and tracking of children's health care and improve background check record keeping.

"We are working day-in and day-out to enhance our ability to protect children and strengthen families," said DCF Commissioner Olga Roche. "Working with our partners to improve services and providing field staff with the resources they need is central to achieving our agency's mission."

Medical Visits

A Medicaid review, conducted in conjunction with a 2011-2012 state audit, shows that over 90 percent of children and youth receive medical care within 30 days before or 30 days after placement. To improve compliance with and documentation of DCF's high standards for medical screenings, the Department is taking the following actions:

* DCF has reviewed and analyzed data showing where children in DCF foster care are currently receiving screenings and examinations. The Department has reached out to those providers, including UMass Memorial Medical Center, Community Health Centers, limited service clinics, to strengthen and expand those partnerships to ensure quality, prompt medical services for DCF children.

* Initiated a data-sharing reporting structure with Medicaid as an additional means of documenting compliance with medical screening standards and better tracking a child's medical history. Making sure that the records of these two agencies match will make for more accurate, current documentation of a child's medical care.

* Collaborating with pediatricians to develop guidelines on medical priorities to ensure that children with the highest medical needs receive priority for screenings and comprehensive medical assessments.

* Hiring more social workers, made possible by the Governor's staffing investments, which will help foster parents secure timely medical screenings for children coming into DCF care and custody. To date, 90 additional social workers have been hired to provide much needed support in the field.

* Working to accept alternative documentation of medical visits. Current policy mandates medical providers to fill out the Department's encounter form, which can lead to medical visits going undocumented if a provider does not fill out the encounter form, specifically.

"Our standards for medical screenings are some of the most rigorous nationwide because the health and well-being of the children in our care is our first priority, but as many parents know, it can be difficult to get a child in to see a physician in short time," said Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz. "We recognize the need for improvement and we're working with pediatricians to create a triage system to ensure that all high risk kids are seen in the initial days of custody."

"The MCAAP understands the challenges foster parents face in getting infants, children, adolescents and young adults the necessary coordinated care for their medical, developmental and behavioral health needs. We support efforts to ensure that all children in DCF custody receive a medical screening within 7 days of placement as well as a comprehensive visit within 30 days. Ideally, this would occur in their original medical home to ensure appropriate evaluation and continuity for these patients who need and deserve optimal care," said Dr. John O'Reilly, President, Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

"Over 1,000 family physicians in Massachusetts provide care for children and we fully support and intend to continue to collaborate with the efforts of the Department of Children and Families to ensure improved access to timely appointments for kids in foster care. Children in foster care are vulnerable and deserve comprehensive, high quality healthcare to keep them healthy and safe. We are fully committed to providing that care," said Kami Phillips, M.D., President, Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians

Background Checks

DCF takes its responsibility to ensure the safety of children being cared for by the Department very seriously. DCF conducts Background Record Checks (BRC) and Sex Offender Registry Information (SORI) checks on all applicants for foster care and adoption, along with all household members age 14 and older, as well as frequent visitors to the home. Additional checks are conducted annually. Fingerprint checks, run through the FBI national crime information database, are also required for applicants prior to approval. DCF has made compliance improvements regarding its policy to retain paper copies of all CORI checks the Department completes, in addition to electronic documentation.

In a review of all foster homes, DCF verified that there are no children in DCF placement living with a sex offender. The Department recently added functionality to its FamilyNet computer system to support enhanced documentation of SORI checks. DCF now has streamlined access to the Sex Offender Registry Information System.

"While we know background checks are being completed, we know we can do more to ensure we are retaining the necessary hard copy documentation for those checks," said Secretary Polanowicz. "We are working to address increased documentation through resources for technology in the Governor's budget that will enable us to better track our compliance."