Boston, MA, July 14, 2021 – Today, Haitian-Americans United, the Greater Boston Latino Network, and Jane Doe, a mother and immigrant with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), filed a civil rights complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) in response to the agency’s failure to provide federally mandated language access to the LEP families they serve. The complaint, filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, asks the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to compel DCF to comply with legal mandates to provide language access services to Massachusetts families.

DCF’s failure to provide adequate language access to LEP parents directly results in the wrongful separation of non-English speaking families across the Commonwealth. As a recent report by Appleseed documents in detail, when DCF fails to prioritize language access, LEP parents are unable to comprehend or meaningfully participate in DCF’s processes. As a result, LEP families face an increased likelihood of separation compared to their English-speaking counterparts. In fact, Latinx families are more overrepresented in foster care in Massachusetts than in any other state.

“The level of harm we’re talking about is immeasurable,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “The wrongful and unjust separation of families leaves children traumatized and denies parents their fundamental rights. DCF must be held accountable and meet the needs of the non-English speaking populations they serve.”

DCF has been on notice of its civil rights violations for years and has had ample opportunity to remedy its discriminatory practices. In 2018, HHS investigated a Title VI complaint made by a Spanish-speaking person who had received inadequate language assistance from DCF. The investigation brought to light DCF’s woefully inadequate use of interpreters for LEP families. Following the investigation, HHS issued a set of voluntary compliance measures intended to bring DCF’s language access practices in line with federal law. But DCF refused to comply voluntarily. In the absence of ongoing monitoring and enforcement, DCF has continued to deprive non-English speaking families of meaningful language access, and consequently access to their children.

“Our foster care system has a long and disturbing history of separating families of color and immigrant families,” said Erin Fowler, attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “DCF’s failure to provide adequate language access is discrimination against immigrants and families of color. Federal intervention is critically needed to ensure that families are not wrongfully separated.” 

The complaint calls for immediate federal intervention and oversight to compel DCF comply with its federal obligation to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. Specifically, the complaint requests that HHS order DCF to adopt and implement a comprehensive remediation plan for meaningful access by LEP individuals. The remediation plan should:

  • require DCF to conduct a language access audit, create a meaningful language access plan, and hire Regional Language Access Coordinators, placing at least one Coordinator within each of DCF’s five regions;
  • set concrete targets for hiring bilingual caseworkers for languages frequently encountered, with a focus on the needs of individual area offices; 
  • require quarterly trainings for all caseworkers and contract interpreters on the importance of language access, tools and techniques for competent interpretation, the importance of confidentiality and impartiality, and DCF terminology and procedures; 
  • require that interpreters be present during all visitations, phone or video conversations, and interactions with LEP individuals;
  • expressly forbid the use of family members, relatives, friends, neighbors, and children as interpreters; 
  • require the translation of all vital documents into the preferred languages of LEP individuals;
  • require all community social service providers DCF contracts with to offer in-person interpretation services, or else allow providers access to DCF’s telephonic interpretation services;
  • require the creation of policies and procedures describing detailed steps for caseworkers to identify alternative social services for LEP families; 
  • require DCF to adopt more flexible protocol to acknowledge the difficulty many LEP families experience when attempting to receive non-English social services; 
  • require the creation of policies and procedures describing detailed steps DCF should take upon receipt of a language access complaint; and
  • require DCF to take any other steps that are necessary to achieve full compliance with federal law. 

“Due to DCF’s failures, we have been forced to try to do DCF’s job for them—by providing community interpreters or translating documents that members have received in English,” says Dieufort Fleurissaint, Chair of the Board of Directors of Haitian-Americans United, the lead complainant in the case. “This drains our limited resources and harms our LEP members. HHS must ensure DCF remedies these wrongs and complies with federal law.” 

Family separation is unfortunately not limited to our southern border—it happens right here in Massachusetts. DCF must provide adequate language access to LEP families and, put simply, stop tearing immigrant families apart.

The complaint is available here

About Massachusetts Appleseed

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The nonprofit researches and identifies the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies have systematically failed impoverished and vulnerable communities, challenges harmful public policies that perpetuate injustices and inequities, advocates for statewide policy solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (https://massappleseed.org)

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

Massachusetts Appleseed’s office is closed today in observance of Juneteenth, the annual holiday marking the day that federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas and freed those who remained enslaved more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This act reminds us that freedom and justice are never easily given but must be fought for, and that the enforcement of legal rights is as essential as their mandate.

Once again, our commemoration of Juneteenth coincides with powerful, community-led demands for systemic change and renewed opportunities to dismantle the structures that fuel white supremacy and perpetuate racial injustice. As we confront the ways systemic, anti-Black racism has continually evolved and taken shape through destructive policies that deny access to justice, safety, and opportunity – from redlining, to the school-to-prison pipeline, and countless more manifestations – this Saturday serves as a reminder that America’s history is not past, but continues to inform our present inequities.

We are glad to see Massachusetts mark Juneteenth as an official state holiday this year, and there continue to be many ways to celebrate:

To our Black colleagues, leaders, and partners, we hope today and tomorrow are days of celebration, joy, and rest. To our white and non-Black colleagues of color, we invite you to join us in commemorating Juneteenth through education, reflection, and action by elevating and giving space to Black voices, engaging with Black history that too often goes untaught, and honoring and remembering the organizers and activists who have always pushed this country to live up to its foundational ideals. Together, we can take steps forward in our pursuit of a future where the full humanity of every person is protected and the promises of freedom, justice, and equity are realized.

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

Boston nonprofit receives 4 years of funding from Cummings Foundation

For Immediate Release

Contact: Deborah Silva, Massachusetts Appleseed, 617-482-8686, deb@massappleseed.org
Contact: Alison Harding, Cummings Foundation, 781-932-7093, aeh@cummings.com

BOSTON, June 1, 2021 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is one of 140 local nonprofits to receive grants of $100,000 to $500,000 each through Cummings Foundation’s $25 Million Grant Program. The Boston-based organization was chosen from a total of 590 applicants during a competitive review process. It will receive $100,000 over four years.

Massachusetts Appleseed is a nonprofit organization that works in partnership with community organizations, pro bono attorneys, coalitions, and community members to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The organization uses policy-driven investigations and powerful advocacy to remove the systemic barriers that prevent Massachusetts’ vulnerable populations from accessing their legal rights, education, and economic stability.

Staff from Massachusetts Appleseed celebrate generous support from Cummings Foundation.

Massachusetts Appleseed staff celebrate Cummings Foundation’s generous support.

“We are deeply grateful for this extraordinary and generous support from Cummings Foundation,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Over the past year, we have seen the needs of our communities rise, systemic inequities worsen, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately devastate the most vulnerable among us. This grant will help us meet this historic moment and push for community-informed solutions to ensure Massachusetts families and youth can exercise their legal rights, build pathways out of poverty and crisis, and achieve meaningful access to essential services and opportunities.”

These funds will support and grow Massachusetts Appleseed’s many initiatives to expand access to opportunity and rebalance the scales of the civil justice system to ensure fair and equitable outcomes for all. In particular, this award will support the organization’s work to end language discrimination immigrant families face in state courts and agencies and to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, focusing on the ways girls of color are unjustly targeted and punished in schools. This funding will also support Massachusetts Appleseed’s work to help young people experiencing homelessness overcome legal barriers and build safe, stable futures.

The Cummings $25 Million Grant Program supports Massachusetts nonprofits that are based in and primarily serve Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties.

Through this place-based initiative, Cummings Foundation aims to give back in the area where it owns commercial buildings, all of which are managed, at no cost to the Foundation, by its affiliate, Cummings Properties. This Woburn-based commercial real estate firm leases and manages 10 million square feet of debt-free space, the majority of which exclusively benefits the Foundation.

“We aim to help meet the needs of people in all segments of our local community,” said Cummings Foundation executive director Joel Swets. “It is the incredible organizations we fund, however, that do the actual daily work to empower our neighbors, educate our children, fight for equity, and so much more.”

With the help of about 80 volunteers, the Foundation first identified 140 organizations to receive grants of at least $100,000 each. Among the winners were first-time recipients as well as nonprofits that had previously received Cummings Foundation grants.

“We have adopted a democratic approach to philanthropy, which empowers an impressive roster of dedicated volunteers to decide more than half of all our grant winners each year,” said Swets. “We benefit from their diverse backgrounds and perspectives; they benefit from a meaningful and fulfilling experience; and the nonprofits often benefit from increased exposure and new advocates.”

This year’s grant recipients represent a wide variety of causes, including social justice, homelessness prevention, affordable housing, education, violence prevention, and food insecurity. The nonprofits are spread across 43 different cities and towns.

The complete list of 140 grant winners, plus more than 800 previous recipients, is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.

Cummings Foundation has now awarded more than $300 million to greater Boston nonprofits.

About Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The nonprofit researches and identifies the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies have systematically failed impoverished and vulnerable communities, challenges harmful public policies that perpetuate injustices and inequities, advocates for long-term solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (https://massappleseed.org)

About Cummings Foundation

Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, Inc. was established in 1986 by Joyce and Bill Cummings and has grown to be one of the three largest private foundations in New England. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including New Horizons retirement communities in Marlborough and Woburn, and Veterinary School at Tufts, LLC in North Grafton. Additional information is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA, May 20, 2021 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice welcomed Alison V. Douglass, Partner at Goodwin Procter LLP, Laura E. Martin, Litigation Associate at Mintz, and Peter P. Tobani, Senior Counsel of Global Retail Markets at Liberty Mutual Insurance, to its Board of Directors on March 25, 2021. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, education, and youth homelessness, is pleased to have these three stellar members of the legal community join the Board.

Alison V. Douglass, Goodwin Procter LLP

Alison V. Douglass, Goodwin Procter LLP

Alison Douglass works as a partner in Goodwin’s Complex Business Litigation and Dispute Resolution, Financial Industry Litigation, and ERISA Litigation practices, primarily focusing on commercial litigation in the areas of ERISA, mutual fund, and securities litigation. She brings to the Board extensive pro bono experience from her work as a volunteer with the New England Innocence Project representing incarcerated individuals and serving as a Committee for Public Counsel Services Bar Advocate representing indigent criminal defendants.

“I am thrilled for this opportunity to join the Board of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice,” said Alison Douglass. “Equal rights and access to justice are causes dear to my heart, and Appleseed is at the forefront of the fight to close critical gaps in services and opportunities available in our community. I look forward to contributing to the Center’s important mission.”

Laura E. Martin, Mintz

Laura E. Martin, Mintz

As a Litigation Associate at Mintz, Laura Martin’s practice encompasses labor and employment litigation, government investigations and enforcement proceedings, internal investigations, and white collar criminal defense for clients in a variety of industries. Ms. Martin’s dedication to expanding access to justice began early in her career when she served as a Student Public Defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services of the Plymouth County Trial Office and a Law Student Intern for Greater Boston Legal Services’ CORI & Re-Entry Project.

“I am honored and excited to join the Massachusetts Appleseed Board of Directors,” said Laura Martin. “The organization’s broad mission and dedicated staff are the foundation to create much needed changes within our community. I look forward to supporting Massachusetts Appleseed as it strives to improve access to justice for all.”

Peter P. Tobani, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Peter P. Tobani, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Peter Tobani works as corporate counsel for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Global Retail Markets Strategic Business Unit where, among other things, he provides legal and regulatory guidance to their small commercial underwriting department and Strategic Partnerships Group. Mr. Tobani first came to Massachusetts Appleseed as a volunteer when he joined dozens of fellow attorneys from Liberty Mutual to help create the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, a know-your-rights resource aimed at helping youth experiencing homelessness understand and exercise their legal rights.

“I am honored and excited to join Massachusetts Appleseed and contribute to their very important mission of addressing systemic injustices throughout the Commonwealth,” Peter Tobani said.

“Alison, Laura, and Peter all bring a wide range of skills and experiences to the Board, but what they share is their absolute commitment to building a future guided by justice and equity,” said Melanie Todman, Chair of the Board. “We are thrilled to welcome them during one of the most difficult and extraordinary times our organization has seen, as our advocacy to meet the rapidly growing needs of our communities continues to gain momentum. To have such exceptional attorneys join us in this work, at this moment, is a true gift.”

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice:

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

The Massachusetts legislative session is in full swing, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to dismantle barriers to access, stability, and basic needs that have gone unaddressed for too long.

The Language Access and Inclusion Act would standardize and enforce language access policies and protocols at public-facing state agencies to ensure non-English speaking residents can access the services they need. As families continue to struggle under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must protect and guarantee the right to language access across the state.

Today, our goal is to reach as many Massachusetts lawmakers as possible. We need you to raise your voice! Please take this one-minute action today and urge your legislators to co-sponsor and support the Language Access and Inclusion Act.

 

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice has signed onto an amicus brief filed by Brown Rudnick LLP, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts in support of the Boston School Committee’s Admissions Plan for Boston Exam Schools for the 2021-22 academic year. The interim Admissions Plan was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and would also address long-standing issues of racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity in Boston’s three elite education institutions: the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

The changes to the Exam Schools admissions process being challenged include: 1) elimination of the entrance exam, 2) allocation of 20% of seats based on GPA, and 3) allocation of the remaining 80% of seats based on a combination of student GPA and home ZIP code, with each ZIP code receiving seats based on the percentage of school-aged children living in that ZIP code. These changes would help ensure talented and capable students from a diverse range of communities have equitable access to the high-quality educational opportunities Exam Schools provide.  

The legal challenge to the plan was brought by the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corporation, a group of parents and students from high-income neighborhoods who stand to lose seats under the new plan. The lawsuit was filed against the School Committee and argues the Admissions Plan is unconstitutional on the basis that ZIP codes are being used as a proxy for race.

As the brief notes, while race, poverty, and geography are undoubtedly linked – particularly against the backdrop of Boston’s long history of segregation – this argument fails to recognize Boston’s diversity within and across ZIP codes. Additionally, the Admissions Plan does not classify students by race, but uses ZIP codes to improve the prospect of Exam Schools reflecting the diversity of Boston’s entire student population. There are also compelling and legitimate goals the Admissions Plan takes steps towards; for example, providing the educational benefits of a diverse student body, which students carry with them into the workforce, and repairing the harms of past discrimination.

“Massachusetts Appleseed is proud to join Brown Rudnick LLP, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, and nearly two dozen allies in educational and racial justice to support the Boston School Committee’s proposed Admissions Plan,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Education can make a radical difference in a child’s life, and all Boston students should have a fair and equitable opportunity to access the resources and academic rigor available at Boston Exam Schools. This policy would open the doors to students who have been too often left behind – low-income students, students experiencing homelessness, and students of color whose families have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Amici Curiae

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, LatinoJustice PLRDEF, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Autism Sprinter, Center for Law and Education, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, Citizens for Public Schools, EdVestors, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Greater Boston Association of Black Social Workers, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Hispanic Federation, Jamaica Plain Progressives, Mass Insight Education & Research, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Northeastern University School of Law, Center for Health Policy and Law, Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), Roslindale is for Everyone (RISE), VISIONS, Inc.

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

The murders that took place in Georgia this week robbed eight people of their lives, six of them Asian women. Our hearts and thoughts are with their loved ones and communities in Atlanta, and with everyone around the country feeling afraid, unsafe, or alone in the wake of this senseless violence.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen people with the most power scapegoat Asian communities and the number of assaults on Asian Americans rise, while the nation’s response to the pandemic has failed to protect immigrants and communities of color. We cannot ignore that this is the context in which this week’s violence – fueled by white supremacy, misogyny, and xenophobia – has occurred.

We stand in solidarity with the AAPI community across Massachusetts and remain committed to eliminating the policies that perpetuate white supremacist violence and dismantling the systems that discriminate against and marginalize Asian, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. We call on our leaders to take action against hate crimes that does not rely on increased policing, reject historical narratives that dehumanize and erase Asian Americans, and support policies that promote language access, provide economic relief for vulnerable communities, and create pathways to justice for victims of discrimination.

Join the Massachusetts Town Hall on Anti-Asian Racism, happening Thursday, March 25th from 6:00 – 7:30 pm.

In solidarity,

Deborah Silva
Executive Director
Massachusetts Appleseed

Melanie L. Todman
Chair of the Board of Directors
Massachusetts Appleseed

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

2021-2022 Legislative Agenda

This past year has been full of extraordinary challenges, but thanks to our community of support, we made powerful gains in the State House. Working with partners, we ensured that a language access provision was included in legislation to hold DCF accountable, successfully advocated for provisions in the sweeping police reform bill that protect the rights of Massachusetts youth, and more! Now, the 2021-2022 Massachusetts legislative session is here, and we’re ready to build on these successes. You have the power to help set the legislative agenda at the State House by taking action TODAY to support essential initiatives within Massachusetts Appleseed’s key policy areas, highlighted below:

Access to Justice

An Act Relative to Language Access and Inclusion: HD.3674 (Rep. Madaro) and SD.2251 (Sen. DiDomenico) would standardize and enforce language access protocols and practices at public-facing state agencies. In Massachusetts, nearly 1 in 10 residents speak a primary language other than English, and this statute would ensure that they have fair and equitable access to unemployment benefits, education, housing assistance, and healthcare – including getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

This bill is one of the key recommendations in our most recent report, Families Torn Apart: Language-Based Discrimination at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and would help hold Massachusetts’ child welfare agency accountable to prevent limited English proficient families from being unjustly separated.

An Act to Create Access to Justice: HD.1968 (Rep. Meschino and Rep. Madaro) and SD.1893 (Sen. DiDomenico) would create a private right of action for individuals who have been subjected to disparate impact discrimination by Massachusetts state agencies and other government entities. “Disparate impact” means situations where laws, policies, and practices appear neutral on their face, but in practice adversely affect individuals who are members of a legally protected class (i.e. race, gender, age, disability, or national origin). This bill would fill a gap in existing federal civil rights law and enable individuals to bring claims of disparate impact discrimination under state law in Massachusetts, allowing for systemic change through our state court system.

This bill is also one of the key recommendations in our most recent report, Families Torn Apart: Language-Based Discrimination at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and would enfranchise limited English proficient parents to take legal action in defense of their civil rights.

Keep Kids in Class

An Act to Ensure Equitable Access to Education, Including Special Education Services, for All Students in Massachusetts: HD.1433 (Rep. Decker) would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to publish demographic data on student discipline – such as race, gender, English-language ability, poverty, disability status, and discipline rate – in a form that could be cross-tabulated and allow for multi-variable analysis. Good policy starts with good data, and this bill will ensure greater transparency and enable advocates, grassroots organizers, and anyone in the Massachusetts community to better identify disparities and inequitable treatment of students, and hold schools accountable.

This bill is one of the key recommendations in our collaborative 2020 report, Protecting Girls of Color from the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

An Act Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Natural Hairstyles: HD.447 (Rep. Ultrino), SD.2349 (Sen. Gomez), and SD.1407 (Sen. DiDomenico) would amend existing state civil rights law to specifically ban discrimination based upon natural hairstyle. Young women and girls of color face disparate discipline in Massachusetts schools, and as we saw in 2017, hairstyle discrimination can play a significant role in pushing Black girls out of their classrooms. This bill would make sure no student is barred from their learning environment because of the way they wear their hair and is an important step forward to combat racial disparities in school discipline.

 

Youth Homelessness & Hunger

An Act to Provide Identification to Youth and Adults Experiencing Homelessness: HD.984 (Rep. Khan and Rep. O’Day) and SD.636 (Sen. Chandler) would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to waive the $25 fee for Mass ID applicants who are experiencing homelessness, and to accept alternative verifications of Massachusetts residency from state agencies and social service agencies.

Currently, many young people experiencing homelessness cannot obtain state ID, which they often need to apply for a job, access public services, open a bank account, and accomplish a host of other important life tasks. One entire chapter of the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, our online know-your-rights resource for youth experiencing homelessness, is devoted to helping youth navigate the difficult process of obtaining identification. This legislation is necessary to eliminate an enormous barrier youth and young adults face on their path to achieving safety and self-sufficiency.

What You Can Do:

  • Contact your Senator & Representative TODAY and ask them to co-sponsor all of the bills listed above.
  • Because elected officials get a lot of emails, follow-up with a phone call to ask whether the Senator or Representative will co-sponsor these bills.
  • If you see your Senator or Representative listed here as a sponsor of one of these bills, give them a call and thank them!
  • Click here to find your Senator and Representatives’ emails and phone numbers.
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for opportunities to take action in support of these policies!

Massachusetts Appleseed is supporting a number of other bills that will disrupt the school-to-confinement pipeline, combat youth hunger, and prevent evictions. To see our full 2021-2022 legislative agenda, click hereThank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

Pro bono lawyers from Baker McKenzie, Boston Scientific and Liberty Mutual, and Staff of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, co-author handbook

For more information, please contact:
Leah Schloss
Associate Director, NA Communications
leah.schloss@bakermckenzie.com
+1 212-626-4474

Boston, MA, February 23, 2021 – Global law firm Baker McKenzie, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Boston Scientific, and Liberty Mutual are pleased to announce the publication of the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, an online resource designed to empower young people to understand their legal rights and take action to build safe, stable futures with Massachusetts-specific information.

More than 3,780 unaccompanied youth were identified as living on their own and without consistent access to shelter in Massachusetts in 2018. In Massachusetts schools, more than 23,500 students are estimated to be experiencing some form of homelessness, and their struggles have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Handbook is an online resource written in plain-language and in a youth-friendly question-and-answer format to ensure young people can use it themselves. The resource will be shared with schools, libraries, public agencies, social advocates, and others throughout Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Appleseed will be organizing trainings around its use.

“Youth experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts face extraordinary challenges related to their path to self-sufficiency and stability, and that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Our aim is to empower these young people to navigate through their struggle against homelessness, and equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to move beyond their current realities and find safety and support.”

More than 60 volunteer attorneys and staff committed hundreds of hours to researching, writing, and editing the handbook, which covers a range of topics including education, domestic and dating violence, healthcare, and more. Volunteer attorneys were guided by community-based experts, who provided essential insights throughout the process.

“We are so pleased to contribute to this worthy effort in providing support to homeless youth and their advocates,” said James Kelleher, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Liberty Mutual. “With this easily accessible handbook, we can help lift young people out of homelessness and change their trajectory toward independence and stability.”

“We know that supporting underserved youth isn’t just the right thing to do for today—it’s also fueling a diverse talent pipeline of problem-solvers for the future,” said Desiree Ralls-Morrison, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Massachusetts-based medical technology leader Boston Scientific. “We are hopeful that the new Handbook will help homeless young people to find security and build a better future.”

Participating youth from the organizations My Life My Choice (an organization that works to end commercial sexual exploitation of children) and Bridge Over Troubled Waters (a Boston-based agency providing services for homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth) reviewed specific handbook chapters to ensure the content includes information most pertinent to their needs and effectively simplifies legal terminology.

Baker McKenzie has partnered with other organizations to produce handbooks in 8 different states, as well as Washington D.C. Learn more here.

“The Homeless Youth Handbook project is an excellent example of how collaboration among in-house counsel, non-profits and law firms can exponentially increase assistance to those in need, particularly the most vulnerable among us during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Colin Murray, North America Chief Executive Officer at Baker McKenzie. “Through partnerships like this, we are able to provide these youth in the US, and their advocates, with clear guidance on young people’s legal rights. Thank you to the talented teams at Liberty Mutual, Boston Scientific and Massachusetts Appleseed for their collaboration with us on this important project.”

About Massachusetts Appleseed

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The nonprofit researches and identifies the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies have systematically failed impoverished and vulnerable communities, challenges harmful public policies that perpetuate injustices and inequities, advocates for statewide policy solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (https://massappleseed.org)

About Liberty Mutual

At Liberty Mutual, we believe progress happens when people feel secure. By providing protection for the unexpected and delivering it with care, we help people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow.

In business since 1912, and headquartered in Boston, today we are the sixth largest global property and casualty insurer based on 2019 gross written premium. We also rank 77th on the Fortune 100 list of largest corporations in the U.S. based on 2019 revenue. As of December 31, 2019, we had $43.2 billion in annual consolidated revenue.

We employ more than 45,000 people in 29 countries and economies around the world. We offer a wide range of insurance products and services, including personal automobile, homeowners, specialty lines, reinsurance, commercial multiple-peril, workers compensation, commercial automobile, general liability, surety, and commercial property.

About Baker McKenzie

Baker McKenzie helps clients overcome the challenges of competing in the global economy. We solve complex legal problems across borders and practice areas. Our unique culture, developed over 70 years, enables our 13,000 people to understand local markets and navigate multiple jurisdictions, working together as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients. (www.bakermckenzie.com)

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 26, 2021

Media Contact:
Melanie Rush
Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
melanie@massappleseed.org

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice today released a report citing the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) for failing to provide federally mandated language access to limited English proficient (LEP) families involved with the agency. As a result, LEP parents cannot meaningfully comprehend or participate in the DCF process and subsequently face an increased likelihood of separation compared to their English-speaking counterparts.

“A lack of DCF investigators who speak a family’s language or dialect or are not completely fluent often leads to miscommunication about events and circumstances, which in turn can lead to erroneous conclusions about the family by DCF,” said Jessica R. Salinas-Thomas, Esq., an attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services who represents DCF-involved families. “… These problems can lead to a delayed reunification for a family or even the termination of a parent’s rights and a child’s loss of its family and community.”

The report examines the various ways in which the Department of Children and Families violates the civil language access rights of parents, the reasons for this systemic failure, and outlines steps that DCF, the Massachusetts Legislature, and the Massachusetts legal community should take to prevent the unjust separation of families and ensure the Commonwealth’s child welfare system complies with federal civil rights law.

“This research shows that even at the most basic level, DCF is failing to provide adequate language access, as well as the very real and irreparable harm LEP families consequently endure,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “Because of the trauma and instability children separated from their parents experience, which can have a profound and devastating impact on their mental health, emotional development, and ability to succeed in school, it is urgent that we take action to address this now. We call on DCF and our state legislators to make the changes necessary to ensure and protect the civil rights of all Massachusetts families.”

The findings of this report show that child welfare decisions involving LEP parents are often unjustly impacted by language access. The report’s findings include:

  • Despite a few individual “superstar” caseworkers, the majority of LEP parents do not receive sufficient interpretation services, document translation services, or social services in their primary language.
  • A lack of competent and impartial interpretation plagues DCF casework; it is estimated that an interpreter is present in only 25% of the LEP home visits the agency conducts.
  • LEP families regularly do not receive Action Plans, letters, notices, and agreements translated into their primary languages.
  • Often LEP parents experience wait times double those that English-speaking parents face when trying to attend the social services (such as therapy, substance use disorder meetings, or parenting classes) that are mandated by DCF.

“Language-based discrimination denies families and workers across the state equal access to their own government and the services they need,” said State Representative Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston). “It has no place in the Commonwealth, and as Massachusetts Appleseed’s report shows, the destructive impact it has on families can be permanent. If Massachusetts is truly committed to the principles of fairness, equity, and justice, then we need to guarantee language access and inclusion for all.”

A new state bill developed by the statewide Language Access Coalition, of which Massachusetts Appleseed is a member, and championed by Representative Madaro and Senator Sal DiDomenico would help remedy this problem by strengthening and standardizing language access requirements for state agencies. But the Massachusetts Legislature, DCF, and the legal community must take additional steps laid out in the report, including:

  • Improved policies and practices at DCF, such as implementing language access trainings for DCF staff, prioritizing hiring bilingual staff, ensuring contracted interpreters are competent and impartial, and publicizing the process for making language access complaints.
  • Increased trainings for staff of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, who should strongly advocate for their LEP clients’ meaningful access to DCF services through all means available, including the submission of complaints, if necessary.
  • Statewide legislation that provides a right for individuals to sue state-level government entities for disparate impact discrimination.
  • The exploration of alternative legal strategies for enforcing the rights of LEP families, including but not limited to impact litigation.

Representatives Joan Meschino and Adrian Madaro intend to file a civil rights bill, entitled An Act to create access to justice, which would restore the right of an individual to bring a claim in state court against a government agency when policies have a disparate impact on individuals designated as a protected class under Massachusetts state law. In this instance, the rights and case outcomes of limited English proficient families and parents are compromised by the department’s failure to provide language access during proceedings and services.

“Disparate impact discrimination is discrimination, regardless of intent,” said State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull).  “Our bill, An Act to create access to justice, enfranchises those who are discriminated against to take legal action in defense of their civil rights.  Access to state courts is essential to safeguard the civil rights of Massachusetts families, and Representative Madaro and I look forward to introducing the bill in the coming weeks.”

“The day-to-day work of DCF caseworkers is hard, and the stakes are high,” said Thomas Roy, a court-appointed attorney representing indigent clients who has worked closely with DCF. “But ultimately, it’s about communicating effectively with parents, and when that doesn’t happen, families are the ones who bear the consequences which can include a termination of parental rights. The end of the legal relationship between parent and child, the equivalent of a death sentence to a family.”

The report, “Families Torn Apart: Language-Based Discrimination at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families” is available online: https://massappleseed.org/reports/families-torn-apart/

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice:

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.