Category Archives: front CAFL

CPCS CLE Requirement – Emergency Policy Change – Fiscal Year 2020 Only

Dear Private Attorneys,

We hope you and your families are well during this difficult time.  Due to exceptional circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 virus, CPCS is waiving the Continuing Legal Education hours requirement for all units for Fiscal Year 2020 (July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020.)

Although we have waived the CLE requirements, we encourage you to attend webinars that are relevant to your practice area to support your professional development.  The CPCS training unit will post offerings for webinars soon. Please see the CPCS Training Department Website.

You may still be paid for eight (8) hours of training if you meet the attendance and payment requirements.

Additionally, Panel Directors may offer credit for webinars that are not sponsored by CPCS.  Please contact the Panel Director for your practice area to determine whether you may get credit and bill for attendance at a webinar not sponsored by CPCS.

We hope that we will be returning to offering in-person training in the later part of the Spring (all in person CPCS training has been cancelled through April 30, 2020), and look forward to seeing you then.

The CPCS Training Department and Panel Directors


In a Broken Foster System, Some Kids Can’t Find a Bed For the Night reports Boston Globe

The Boston Globe recently published an article on the severe shortage of foster homes for children removed from their parents.  According to the article, Massachusetts has one of the worst records nationally for placement instability, lagging behind all but three states.  “In 2018 nearly a third of children in foster care in Massachusetts were moved three or more times during their first year in the system.”  Indeed, “virtually every night, DCF response workers, with kids in their back seats, are crisscrossing Massachusetts, or camping out at a 24-hour McDonald’s as they await word of a foster family with space for another child.”  “Many DCF offices have become de facto day-care centers, with toddlers crawling amid computers and paper clips.” 

The article included quotes from CAFL’s Deputy Chief Counsel Mike Dsida, who stated, ““Foster care is warranted in some cases because of the risks children face in their homes.  But there has to be more thought given to the harm that they suffer as a result of being removed from their homes and placed in an overtaxed foster care system.”  He continued: “That doesn’t mean that children should be left home in risky situations, but many more of them could be maintained safely in their own homes if parents are provided better support.”   In a follow up article, the Globe reported the reactions of several state legislators to the piece. Their responses include advocating for increased funding for family support and stabilization services and possibly refiling a bill that would require an independent review of cases anytime a child experiences more than two placements after entering foster care.  

The April 6 article can be found here.

The April 9 article can be found here.



SAMHSA Releases Recommendation Letter on the Treatment of Women with Substance Use Disorder and Their Infants

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services responsible for issues of mental health and substance use, recently released a letter with recommendations for the treatment of pregnant and parenting women with substance use disorder and their infants. The text of the letter, containing many useful links, is available here:


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

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

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