[VIDEO] Mass. DCF: helping or harming families?


The adverse effects of family separation by the Massachusetts child welfare system, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), have created generational cycles of trauma that disproportionately affect historically disadvantaged communities. For the 2020 fiscal year, DCF stated that the children in their care are 2.5 times more likely to be Black and nearly three times as likely to be Latinx than white.

“DCF comes into your home, and they rip your children away,” said Tia Washington, a single mother of seven in Boston. “This is what has happened for generations…myself being a product of that. DCF hasn’t been supportive of our families within our communities.”

Unfortunately, Washington’s experiences have become a common enough occurrence to fuel a deep distrust in DCF. This trepidation can have a negative impact on community-based providers — parents can become reluctant to seek assistance out of fear their children may be taken from them. 

“A lot of the services and a lot of the models that we’ve had access to have not necessarily been developed by people who look like us, by people who own our culture, by people within our culture,” said Harry Harding, Vice President of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Children’s Services of Roxbury, a community nonprofit that supports families in need.

But listening to families goes much further than providing intervention and support when a family is in crisis. Many advocates for changing the system are now turning to families who have become involved with DCF, who possess critical perspectives for changing policies surrounding the child welfare and foster care systems.

“DCF: Helping or Harming?” combines the experiences of these families with other experts and advocates for community-based outreach to ask whether removing children from their families is really the best way to protect them from harm.

This video was produced and edited by: Taylor Blackley and Katie Mogg


“DCF: Helping or Harming?” is a part of The Family Project, which is the result of a course called “Video for Social Impact” at the Northeastern University School of Journalism taught by documentary filmmaker Jody Santos. Over the fall 2021 semester, students collaborated with an interdisciplinary research group at Northeastern focused on the cradle-to-prison pipeline in Massachusetts. “Video for Social Impact” taught students how to create media for transformative change, looking at how the child welfare system in Massachusetts disproportionately targets economically and racially marginalized communities. The objective of this project is that the videos produced will move the needle on the issues we covered and make an impact. 

On Thursday, Feb. 3, from 3:30-5 p.m., “DCF – Helping or Harming?” will be featured alongside “Putting Families First” in a virtual premiere followed by a panel discussion. You can register for the event here



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