The Family Support Unit of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has two main goals:
  • to build the capacity of high risk communities to support families and prevent child abuse and neglect
  • to integrate a strengths-based approach into the Department's practice.

To accomplish these goals, the Family Support Unit sustains a variety of initiatives.

Community Connections

Community Connections is a neighborhood-based, resident-driven network of coalitions in neighborhoods across Massachusetts. The goal is to build a comprehensive continuum of family support that strengthens families, builds communities, and prevents child abuse and neglect. Community Connections coalitions accomplish this by better coordinating resources already in the community, involving residents in planning for local resources, and ensuring that services meet the needs of the people. Community Connections has refocused its evaluation efforts since 2001 to measure attainment of community action plan goals, leadership development strategies, and the extent to which coalitions are building bridges to DCF.

Community Connections Coalitions are located in Brockton, Cape Cod, Chelsea, Dorchester, Fall River, Fitchburg, Framingham, Holyoke, Jamaica Plain, Lawrence/Methuen, Lowell, Lynn, Montague/Turners Falls, New Bedford, North Adams, North Quabbin, South Boston, Southbridge, Southwick, Springfield, and Worcester.

Community Connections Newsletters

Positive Outcomes:

  • The relationship between DCF and the community is more positive because of the efforts of coalitions to build those bridges.
  • Resources within communities are maximized, as coalitions link providers to each other to reduce duplication and better respond to the needs of families.
  • Coalitions have trained parents and residents in leadership skills, resulting in them joining the coalitions' steering committees, running for -- and winning -- elected office, and joining coalitions as staff.

Patch Teams

Patch has developed community-based sites which partner the neighborhood prevention work of Community Connections with the child-protective case practice of DCF social workers. This family-centered approach also brings together the DCF Family Based Services Networks and other state agency services, as well as a diverse array of resources offered by community organizations and grassroots groups.

Patch Teams are located in the Dorchester and North Quabbin communities.

Positive Outcomes:

  • Patch promotes shared ownership of the problem of child protection within the community.
  • Patch connects families to community resources more quickly, minimizing the need for lengthy DCF intervention.
  • Patch prevents unnecessary placement, and places a larger percentage of children in need of placement with their kin.
  • Patch has maximized limited DCF and DYS dollars by linking families with resources in their communities.
  • Patch works with families who are not involved with the Department, providing supports and resources that will prevent them from becoming involved in the future.

Nurturing Programs

Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts (FNC) has worked with DCF area offices to train and mentor staff in the coordination and delivery of a variety of individualized Nurturing Program curricula which primarily aim to strengthen parent-child relationships. Community Connections Coalitions have also implemented Nurturing Programs for both DCF-involved and non-DCF involved families, teen parents, fathers, and others.

Nurturing Programs are located at the Dimock Street, Hyde Park, and Park Street DCF Area Offices, Enlace de Familias de Holyoke, the Fitchburg Safe and Healthy Neighborhood Coalitions, and the Jamaica Plain Coalition: Tree of Life/Arbol de Vida.

Positive Outcomes:

  • Parents have improved their parenting skills; they have more appropriate expectations and increased empathy, use less punitive disciplinary methods, and have clearer roles within the family.
  • Parents have been reunified with their children after graduating from the program.
  • Successful graduates have been trained as facilitators of Nurturing Programs, becoming resources to families in their communities.
  • DCF staff involved in Nurturing have improved morale, and families have a more positive view of DCF.

Family Advocates

Family Advocates are funded on DCF Area Office Multi-disciplinary Assessment Teams (MDATs) and more recently, on Community Connections Coalitions. Family Advocates sitting on MDATs mostly work with individual families, and the Family Advocates sitting on coalitions work with a broader community systems focus.

MDAT Family Advocates are located in the Arlington, Fitchburg, Framingham, Park Street, Pittsfield, and Worcester DCF Area Offices. FBS Family Advocates are located in Dorchester, Fall River, Fitchburg, Lowell, New Bedford, North Quabbin and Springfield.

Positive Outcomes:

  • Family Advocates have increased and enhanced the quality of family participation at MDAT and FBS Team Meetings.
  • Family Advocates have connected families to non-contracted resources in their communities, maximizing contracted dollars and surrounding families with supports that will exist long after DCF's involvement.
  • Family Advocates have connected both DCF social workers and Family Based Services Network staff to neighborhood resources.

This information is provided by the Department of Children and Families.