Author Archives: jprince

ESSA Creates New Federal Rights for Foster Children to School Stability

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  ESSA amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Two parts of the amended ESEA are particularly relevant to children in foster care: Title I, which now provides school stability rights for children in foster care, and Title IX, the McKinney-Vento statute.  Some of the changes to McKinney-Vento went into effect in October 2016.  The Title I changes related to foster care are effective December 10, 2016.  Additional information is posted under “Trial Resources – Education” on the CAFL site. Or you can click here to go directly to the ESSA information page.



DCF Rewriting Its Regulations

DCF is in the process of rewriting its regulations.  The agency anticipates submitting between one and four sets of proposed changes to the Secretary of State every two weeks during the next several months. In total, they are planning on publishing 19 new or revised CMR sections. CPCS will be submitting comments on each section, and we encourage private bar to submit comments as well. We will be posting proposed sections on the CAFL site as we receive them. Please click here for additional information and links to the proposed regulations.



State holds first “Reunification Day Celebration” in Berkshire County

On Tuesday, June 28, 2016, for the first time in Berkshire County, local agencies hosted a Reunification Day Celebration to recognize the reunification of families after separation through the child welfare system.  This event was hosted by Berkshire Children & Families, the Department of Children and Families, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services – Children and Family Law Division (CAFL), in collaboration with the Berkshire Juvenile Court and the local bar.

The two hour celebration was held at the Berkshire Children and Families’ Family Resource Center and honored local families for their reunification success.    The Honorable Amy L. Nechtem, Chief Justice of Juvenile Department of the Massachusetts Trial Court, the Honorable Joan M. McMenemy, First Justice of the Berkshire Juvenile Court, Carolyn Burns, CEO & President of Berkshire Children and Families, and Margie Gilberti, Pittsfield DCF Director of Areas addressed the audience.  Brian Litscher, a local CAFL panel attorney, entertained the crowd with an acapella performance of “Somewhere” from West Side Story. The honored families were presented with passes donated by local attractions, and gifts that were generously provided by CAFL.  Arts and crafts and face painting followed the structured portion of the celebration.  A commemorative canvas, donated by CAFL panel attorney, Peter Brewer, was decorated and will be displayed in the Berkshire Juvenile Court.

This event was held in connection with the American Bar Association’s National Reunification Month.  National Reunification Month is celebrated around the country every June to honor the importance of the reunification of children with their families in the child welfare system.  The event was first celebrated in 2010 by the American Bar Association in collaboration with many national agencies.  National Reunification Month celebrates the accomplishments of families who have overcome an array of challenges to safely reunify, recognizes the vital role that community partners play in strengthening families, and is designed to inspire other families in pursuit of successful reunification.

Reunification Day Celebration 2

CAFL Announces the Establishment of the Margaret Winchester Award

We are pleased to announce the establishment of the Margaret Winchester Award to honor excellence in child welfare advocacy, in recognition of Margaret’s long-lasting and deep commitment to her CAFL clients and helping others provide high quality representation.

From the moment she took on the challenge of representing CAFL clients until her passing in 2015, Margaret Winchester was a zealous, committed advocate who believed with all her heart that children and parents deserved the highest level of advocacy.  No one worked harder or took the responsibility of being a role model more seriously than Margaret.  She brought her passion and her work ethic to every role she played for CPCS, and she inspired CAFL private attorneys and staff to follow her lead.  Margaret made it her mission to teach and to model for others a sincere commitment to the highest quality representation for the families of Massachusetts.  She did not merely talk about zealous advocacy; she lived it. 

In every phase of her legal career, Margaret served as a teacher and model for staff and for private attorneys.  Margaret joined the CAFL trial panel in 1990 and quickly stepped up to mentor others who had recently begun working as child welfare attorneys.  Her mentees were uniformly well-trained; she supported them and taught them by example.  She also held their feet to the fire, instilling in them a belief in the importance of the practice. Margaret next served as the Regional Coordinator for Worcester County, providing guidance and direction for her colleagues while ensuring that they received support from the CAFL administrative office.  Margaret was an invaluable resource for the attorneys of Worcester County, as well as for the Worcester County courts and judges.  In addition, Margaret handled dozens of appeals and mentored newly-certified appellate attorneys.  In 2000 Margaret became Co-Director of the CAFL Program and as such provided oversight and support for CAFL attorneys throughout the state.  Her teaching legacy continued as she conducted numerous trainings for staff and private counsel and helped oversee CAFL’s administrative staff. 

With the expansion of CAFL’s staff operations in 2006, Margaret was the obvious choice to be the founding Attorney in Charge for the new Worcester office.  Over the next eight years, the office grew from three attorneys, one social worker, and one support staff to more than 20 full-time staff.  Margaret loved the challenge of managing an office comprised of mostly brand-new attorneys.  As Attorney in Charge, she developed the gold standard for supervision.  She also helped establish a model for the effective, client-centered use of social workers.  Those who were lucky enough to work for Margaret knew that her expectations were high.  But Margaret was also supportive of, and kind to, staff who were struggling.  She was also generous with her time and assistance to the other Attorneys in Charge and the CAFL Training Unit.

Establishing the Margaret Winchester Award will help continue Margaret’s work by recognizing others who serve as model advocates for children and parents in Massachusetts.

Information about the May 24, 2016, awards ceremony and nominations will be announced soon.

Boston Globe Letters: “Can we get a grip on protecting kids?”

On October 10, the Boston Globe published several letters to the editor regarding DCF and the courts, including the following one from Deputy Chief Counsel Michael Dsida:

GOVERNOR BAKER has rightly urged the state Department of Children and Families to keep children safe (“Baker moves to ‘keep kids safe,’ ” Page A1, Sept. 28). DCF, however, must balance the risks of keeping children at home with the trauma that removal causes children, along with other risks of harm that some foster placements present.

As DCF Commissioner Linda S. Spears noted, child protection and family preservation aren’t competing goals. When provided with appropriate supports, DCF-involved parents can meet the needs of their children. Foster care, though sometimes necessary, should be reserved for children whose families cannot meet their needs. The trauma that DCF placements cause children — including removal from siblings, extended family, and community — is too significant to use foster care in any other way.

The law reflects the importance of child protection andfamily preservation. Under state law, while “the health and safety of the child is of paramount concern,” foster care may be used “only when the family [or] resources available . . . are unable to provide necessary care and protection.”

As Governor Baker noted, DCF caseloads must also decline. In addition, DCF should provide more services to families, to meet what the Child Welfare League of America has called the agency’s “dual obligations — to protect children and . . . respect the right of families to be free from unwarranted state intervention.”

Michael Dsida
Deputy chief counsel
Children and Family Law Division
Committee for Public Counsel Services

Family Resource Centers Now Open

The Family Resource Centers (FRCs) of Massachusetts is a statewide network providing community-based, multi-cultural parenting programs, support groups, early childhood services, information and referral resources and education for families whose children range in age from birth to 18. Supported through funding from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services in collaboration with the Department of Children and Families, a Family Resource Center is located in each of the 14 Massachusetts counties.

The goal of each FRC is to provide information and assistance to families needing access to health, safety, employment training, education and peer support. Through the work of the FRCs families can focus on strengthening their bonds, connecting to others, and engaging in their communities. The core values of the FRCs include: respect, trust, safety, wellness, caring, connectivity, and education. 

Family Resource Centers – locations

For more information, visit the Family Resource Centers website at  

In Memoriam:  Margaret T. (Clapp) Winchester

September 14, 1953 – June 16, 2015

With sadness, we are writing to let you know that Margaret Winchester, the Attorney in Charge for CAFL’s trial office in Worcester, passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

For more than 25 years, Margaret was a tireless and courageous champion for children and parents whose rights to family integrity were jeopardized – and often trampled – by state intervention.  She was an early member of the trial and appellate panels for the Family Law Advocacy Project (the precursor of CAFL); she served as a mentor and Regional Coordinator in Worcester County; she was one of CAFL’s Co-Directors from 1999 to 2006; and for the last nine years she has been CAFL’s Attorney in Charge in Worcester.  Her accomplishments were many and varied in each of those roles.  Looking at her AIC work alone, she successfully launched the office (while helping her counterparts in Boston, Brockton, Lowell, and Pittsfield start their own offices); she positioned the office at the forefront of child welfare advocacy in Worcester County; she helped the office grow from a staff of five in mid-2011 to more than 20 by mid-2013; and she kept her staff steady and strong in the midst of a severe shortage of CAFL lawyers and an unprecedented avalanche of new cases being prosecuted by the Department of Children and Families in late 2013 and well into 2014. 

In the face of various challenges, Margaret was particularly adept at working with newer, less experienced staff members.  A one-time high school teacher, Margaret loved helping her staff learn, grow, and develop as professionals.  Countless others also benefited from her eagerness and willingness to share her knowledge and experience.  Year after year, Margaret served as a trainer par excellence for private attorneys and staff.  At the same time, she modeled zealous advocacy in her own work.  Sharp and insightful, Margaret didn’t simply rely on her intelligence.  As her colleagues have noted (and as anyone who ever observed her would agree), no one ever outworked Margaret. 

Margaret’s work extended far beyond “typical” public defender work (if there is such a thing).  She participated in a number of Worcester area and statewide organizations aimed at securing better outcomes for our clients.  She was willing to speak up and speak out when she saw a problem that needed to be addressed – with the Juvenile Court, with DCF, and within CPCS itself.  Through her appellate work, she helped establish a right to counsel for parents who were in jeopardy of losing their children to state custody in status offense cases.  In honor of that achievement and her other work, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly named Margaret one of their “Lawyers of the Year” in 2008.  Margaret also received CPCS’s Mary Fitzpatrick Children and Family Law Award in 2013 in recognition of her zealous advocacy and extraordinary commitment to children and families.

As much as, if not more than, any other CAFL lawyer, Margaret was committed to her work.  She was always client-centered,she was deeply devoted to her staff, and she was very supportive of private attorneys.  It is no exaggeration to say that Margaret helped hundreds of lawyers and thousands of children and parents (directly and through her support and supervision of others) over the arc of an incredibly productive career.  But Margaret was more than just a great litigator and a dynamic leader.  She was kind and compassionate to clients and colleagues alike.  She was generous with her time, even while her health was failing.  She had a wonderful sense of humor.  She was humble.  Particularly over the last few years, she reminded us that every day is a gift.

Families in Worcester County and all of us at CPCS have lost a great friend and a powerful voice for justice.  We ask each of you to pause for a moment at some point in your busy day in Margaret’s honor.  

More information can be found at:

Anthony J. Benedetti,                                                                                                                                       Chief Counsel
Michael Dsida,
Deputy Chief Counsel
Children and Family Law Division

Nancy Hathaway Receives Juvenile Bar Association Award

Nancy Hathaway, a supervising attorney in CPCS’s Children and Family Law Division office in Boston, was honored by the Juvenile Bar Association (JBA) with the Leo J. Lydon award at its annual conference on March 20.  The JBA is a statewide bar association dedicated to engaging and connecting attorneys who represent clients in abuse and neglect, delinquency, youthful offender and status offender cases.  This award, named for the late Juvenile Court Judge Leo J. Lydon, honors an attorney who has demonstrated the utmost integrity, sound judgment, and perseverance in zealous advocacy and who has elevated the standard of Juvenile Court practice through example.

While Nancy is being honored for her overall work on behalf of her clients, one particular recent case exemplifies her personal and professional qualities that inspired this award.  In a case that became quite high-profile, garnering local and national headlines and spawning extensive discussion on social media, Nancy represented a teenaged girl whose parents brought her to Boston for treatment of a controversial mitochondrial disease, were accused of neglect, and became embroiled in a complex custody dispute involving the state and medical providers.  Throughout the lengthy proceedings, Nancy was charged with representing the interests of her endearing, but very sick teenaged client.  In the end, Nancy was able to obtain the legal outcome that her client desired. 

CPCS thanks the JBA for its ongoing support of attorneys doing this most important work on behalf of children and parents in our communities and appreciates this generous and well-deserved tribute to Nancy.

U.S. Department of Justice and HHS Find that DCF Violated ADA and Section 504

In a Letter of Findings made public Monday, the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights ordered the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to immediately withdraw a petition to terminate a developmentally delayed mother’s parental rights, and to provide appropriate reunification services accommodating the mother’s disability.  The Letter of Findings can be found at   It is a must read for any attorney representing parents with a disability.   Continue reading