Finally! We have F.A.C.E.S
An Act Regarding Families and Children Engaged in Services
With our FACES bill on the Governor’s desk, the night before last night proved to be a victorious night for those who worked tirelessly on this reform for so many years, and also for 8,000 children and youth and their families across the state. For almost 40 years the CHINS system has criminalized young people who need help, not punishment, a probation officer and the lasting stigma of a court record.
The Problem: For nearly 40 years, CHINS has punished thousands of people, and helped few.
The CHINS system put youth (ages 6 to 18) into the criminal justice system and assigns them a probation officer, even if they have never been accused of breaking a law.
Being labeled a “CHINS Kid” unfairly stigmatized a young person at a time when we are still defining who we are.
Studies show that youths who are exposed to the criminal justice system in the formative years between 6 and 18 are more likely to be involved in serious crimes later in life. One reason for this is that young people become de-sensitized to going to court, so that it seems like no big deal.
There were roughly 9,000 applications for CHINS every year in Massachusetts, and each of those youths is assigned a probation officer. Of the approximately 6,000 cases that went through court, 60% or around 3,600 families lost custody of their child.
More than 50% of CHINS cases involved youth with a diagnosed mental health disorder, youth who needed treatment, not punishment.
The Solution: CHINS is now replaced with a new program: FACES
FACES (“Families and Children Engaged in Services”) will create an alternative to court, whereby families have the opportunity to receive the help they need without going through the court system. These services would be voluntary and collaborative.
The FACES program is designed to address whatever problems may be underlying a young person’s negative behavior – with mediation, mentorship, mental health or academic supports, for example – rather than treating the youth as a criminal in need of punishment.
Under FACES, both the youth and his or her parents will be eligible for legal representation.
Under FACES, there will be a full range of services provided consistently throughout the state, and these would be coordinated through a “wrap-around” process so that families and youth are part of a team working to build on the youth’s strengths and meet his or her needs – and also to build on the family’s strengths and meet their needs.
One goal of the FACES program is to provide services so that the youth can continue to reside in their home communities and attend their own schools.
A child will never be restrained in shackles or handcuffs, or placed in a lockup facility unless they are accused of breaking the law.
This bill would also increase the mandatory school attendance age to 18.
FACES will transform the current juvenile court based CHINS system to one which is community-based and family and child focused. It will integrate school and community based services with juvenile justice interventions to keep children healthy and safe; support and strengthen family connections; provide family services in the least restrictive environment possible.
FACES will prevent children from becoming criminally involved and decrease the juvenile justice pipeline CHINS has created.
FACES will eliminate the necessity for parents to lose custody of their children in order to receive services.