MassKids effects change for the Commonwealth's most vulnerable children and youth by working to improve state services for children, pushing for needed legislation and, when necessary, taking legal action. We research and document unmet needs, evaluate existing programs and policies, and act as a catalyst to link individuals and groups around common concerns.
MassKids educates the general public and professionals through conferences, workshops, demonstration projects, publications, public opinion polling and social media campaigns.
MassKids is the source that citizens and the media turn to for an independent view of events, legislative issues or public policies affecting and their families. We are independent of political, partisan, and government organizations.
Advocacy Strategies and Results:
To accomplish its goals, MassKids employs a variety of advocacy strategies. Examples of these and their results include:
1. Building issue-specific coalitions to affect systems change
Coalitions organized/coordinated by MassKids or on which we serve as a member):
- National Task Force on Educator Sexual Misconduct - member (2016 - present)
- National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploittion - member (2014 - present)
- CItizens to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (2017 - present)
- Massachusetts Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership (2002 - 2013)
- Coalition to Reform Sexual Abuse Laws (2005 and ongoing)
- Massachusetts Child Poverty Reduction Task Force (2007 - 2008)
- Hampden County SBS Prevention Task Force (2005 -2010)
- Committee to Support DSS (2002)
- Summit Initiative on Child Protection and Family Support (1999 - 2001)
- Campaign for Children (1996 - 1999)
- Children's Advocacy Board (1993 - 1996)
- Coalition to Repeal Exemptions to Child Abuse Laws (1990 - 1993; 2008 - 2010)
- Coalition to Establish Child Death Review (1991- 1992)
- Coalition to Establish the National Parent Aide Association (1988 - 1990)
- New England Consortium for Families and Youth (1989 -1994)
- Coalition of Adolescent Emergency Services (1986 - 1988)
- Greater Boston Adolescent Emergency Network (1985 - 1986)
2. Developing and disseminating policy and data reports
"Sexual Abuse Safe-Child Standards in Massachusetts" Every child has the right to be safe where he or she lives, learns, and plays. Adults charged with the responsibility to care for children and youth are critical gatekeepers who can protect them from people that might sexually abuse or exploit them. Outlined in this 24-page report are a series of six standards to help organizations reduce the risk of sexual abuse and ensure a safe environment to learn and grow. While the standards describe the essential requirements that organizations must meet to establish safe environments, they can and should be tailored to the mission, purpose, size, and specific characteristics of each organization and their surrounding communities. (2015)
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth-Serving Organizations, a 12-page practical guide to make schools and youth-serving organizations safer. The Guide describes six key strategies including training staff and volunteers about adult perpetration and child-on-child sexual abuse;comprehensive screening of prospective emloyees and volunteers; development of codes of conduct to address inappropriate behaviors before they escalate to reportable offenses; modifying physical spaces to reduce the risk of sexual abuse occuring; and how to match an organization's mission to its child sexual abuse prevention policies. The Guide is accompanied by six fact sheets that elaborate on each of these topics. (2013)
Moving Kinship Care Forward in Massachusetts, a 20-page data and advocacy report released in September, 2011 which discusses the state’s current arrangement with relatives to support children who cannot live in their own homes. The report recommends that the State improve its efforts to identify kin caregivers, place children in the most appropriate kinship arrangements, and provide their relative caregivers with financial, legal, education and health supports to adequately help the children in their care thrive.
Child Poverty in Massachusetts: A Tale of Three Cities, a 100-page data and advocacy report released on March 26, 2010 which focuses on Springfield, Lawrence and New Bedford - three of the state's cities with the highest percentage of children living in poverty.
Child Poverty in Massachusetts: A Tale of Two States, a 60-page data and advocacy report released on September 16, 2008, which calls for the establishment of a formal Massachusetts Child Poverty Reduction Initiative.
State Call to Action to End Child Abuse and Neglect in Massachusetts, the result of a 2-year effort involving over 200 key policymakers and advocates in health, human services and law enforcement. The Boston Globe called the multi-year blueprint "... a unique document, the first effort in any state to examine the broad spectrum of issues that can result in abuse and neglect, and them to offer a comprehensive, systemic approach aimed at dramatically improving the treatment of children in Massachusetts. Early indications are that it will have considerable influence, and possibly, frame the way in which the state deals with abuse and neglect issues in the future." (2001)
The Children's Bench Book: Improving Court Responses to Child Victims of Intra-Familial Violence and Sexual Abuse, a seminal reference for Massachusetts Probate and Juvenile Court judges, attorneys, and probation officers was published to educate these professionals about the latest research on the traumatic effects of abuse and violence on child victims and to showcase the effective handling of abuse cases in other court jurisdictions across the country. (2002)
Critique of the Cardinal Commission's Draft Report for the Protection of Children, the 7-page document analyzes the Commission's preliminary recommendations and challenges the lack of independent review and oversight and the triplicate reporting process it proposes. (2002)
Special issue Kids Count reports:
- Child Abuse and Neglect: Protecting Massachusetts Children (1999)
- Working and Still Poor (1998)
- Who's Minding the Children? The State of Child Care in Massachusetts (1998)
- Health Care Access for Children (1997)
- Family Support (1997)
- State of the Child 1996 (1996)
Death by Religious Exemption: An Advocacy Report on the Need to Repeal Religious Exemptions to Necessary Medical Care for Children, the 50-page report documents the medical, legal and constitutional grounds for the need to repeal Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 273, Section 1. (1992)
Child Abuse and Neglect: A Resource for Policymakers and Advocates, described as "a must for child advocates needing a comprehensive update of the latest research in the field." (Child Protection Report) and as "an invaluable resource in guiding program and policy development." (NationalCenter on Child Abuse Research) (1990 2nd printing)
3. Implementing research pilots and demonstrations:
Collaborative Efforts to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse -
Funded by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2002 - 2008)
Central MA SBS Prevention Campaign
Funded by Health Foundation of Central Mass., Inc. grant (2002 - 2007)
Funded by National Center on Child Abuse/Neglect (NCCAN) and
Foundation for Child Development (1989-1993)
SBS Prevention Education -
Funded by NCCAN and Ohio Research Institute (1991-1993)
HIV/AIDS Prevention Education for Homeless/ Runaway Youth -
Funded by US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (1988-1990)
4. Training professionals through MassKids-convened policy and issues conferences
"National Conference on Innovative Strategies to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse in Schools" A convening of national and state leaders to discuss the elements of a comprehensive set of child sexual abuse prevention policies and practices schools can implement to increase their protection from educator sexual misconduct and abuse. Thirty presenters shared information about the latet policies and practices regarding:
- Training of school employees to reduce adult perpetration and child-on-child sexual abuse
- Screening of prospective employees to avoid the hiring of sexually high-risk individuals
- Developing Codes of Conduct that detail prohibited boundary-violating behaviors
- Modifying physical spaces to reduce opportunities for sexual abuse to occur
- Handling suspected or disclosed cases of child sexual abuse to meet mandated reporting laws
Participants also learned latest research on the prevalence of educator sexual misconduct in U.S. schools; the new federal prohibition against “passing the trash” and confidential agreements aimed at suppressing investigations; lessons schools facing sexual abuse scandals are learning about the need for transparency; and model legislative efforts aimed at comprehensive prevention education within schools. (October 2017)
"The Prevention Summit: Preventing Sexual Abuse in Schools and Youth-Serving Organizations" A convening of national and local leaders with experteise in child sexual abuse prevention and child protection to share latest findings in the field and best practices and policies to prevent child sexual abuse in schools and youth-serving organizations. Convened by MassKids and the Enough Abuse Campaign. (November, 2013)
“A Multidisciplinary Approach to Preventing and Responding to Abusive Head Trauma/SBS” A convening of health care professionals from throughout the Greater Boston area to address the prevention and early identification of Abusive Head Trauma/Shaken Baby Syndrome. Co-convened by MassKids and Tufts Medical Center/Floating Hospital for Children. (November 2011)
"Shaken Baby Syndrome / Abusive Head Trauma" A convening of 100 key Middlesex and Essex County leaders to improve case collaboration, communication and prevention. Co-sponsored with LowellGeneralHospital and Trinity Emergency Medical Services. (September 2009)
"Taking Action to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: Strategies for Your Community" The first and second statewide conferences on prevention each attracted 200 professionals and citizens and was sponsored by the MA Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership which MassKids coordinates. (2003, 2005)
"Summit on Children and the Courts" The two-day conference of national experts and over 150 Massachusetts judges, lawyers and child protection leaders discussed latest findings on the impact of child abuse trauma and model court responses. Endorsed by the Flaschner Judicial Institute. (2002)
"Shaken Baby Syndrome: From Awareness to Action" The day-long conference brought together 150 health, law enforcement and child protection professionals from Worcester County and was co-sponsored with the Central Massachusetts SBS Prevention Campaign, a countywide coalition which MassKids coordinates. (2001)
"The Impact of Abuse/Neglect and Family Violence on Child Development: Implications for Practice and Policy" Under this conference theme, three separate, full-day Symposia were convened that involved over 200 policymakers and practitioners from a variety of disciplines. Their recommendations helped shape clinical recommendations in the subsequent "State Call to Action." (2000)
"Policy Leaders Summit on New Directions in Child Protection and Family Support" Sixty of the state's and country's leading child and family policymakers were convened in a two-day retreat to formulate a vision and begin a strategic planning process to craft a blueprint for action to address child abuse in the Commonwealth. (1999)
"SBS Prevention Institute" Co-convened by MassKids and the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome in Salt Lake City, this meeting brought together 100 professionals from multiple disciplines in this first national meeting dedicated to SBS prevention. (1997)
"Towards a Coordinated Response to Child Death" Fifty public policy leaders in law enforcement, public health and social services were convened by MassKids to spearhead the development of an independent, publicly accountable child death review system and to examine the causes and prevention of child deaths in the State. (1996)
5. Training parents and professionals through MassKids-developed prevention training products
"Enough! Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in My School" A one-hour, online, evidence-based course developed specifically for public and private school personnel, including teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, counselors, school resource officers, coaches, office personnel, transportation providers, food service workers, security guards, and custodians. Parents, school volunteers, and members of Parent Teacher Organizations and local School Committees also benefit from this course. Independent research using control and intervention groups confirmed statistically significant gains in knowledge about child sexual abuse prevention, identification of boundary-violating behaviors, and confidence and willingness to report disclosed or suspected cases. (2017)
"Straight Talk: A Prevention Guide for Parents of Children with Disabilities" – this resource addresess the fact that children and teens with disabilities are at significantly greater risk of sexual abuse than their abled peers. This version of the Straight Talk prevention guide gives parents and caregivers of children with disabilities specific knowledge and skills to keep their children safe. The 28-page guide can be downloaded online for free. It is also available for bulk purchase and can be localized with specific state or county resources. (2016)
"Straight Talk About Child Sexual Abuse: A Prevention Guide for Parents" Parents are understandably concerned about how to protect their children from the risks of sexual abuse but most know little about what to do or say or when to convey key prevention messages to their children. "Straight Talk about Child Sexual Abuse" is a 12-page practical guide developed by MassKids to give parents the basic knowledge, skills and words they need to communicate to their children about this major safety risk. (2014)
"GateKeepers for Kids: A Practical Guide to Make Your Organization Safer" This 12-page Practical Guide details the latest training, screening and reporting strategies in the field. A set of companion Fact Sheets are also available on training, screening, reporting, steps to develop a code of conduct so inappropriate behaviors can be identified early before they escalate to abuse, how to assess and modify physical spaces to reduce opportunities for sexual abuse to occur, etc. (2013)
“Abusive Head Trauma/Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention: A Training for Health Care Providers” This 2-Disc set includes a 1-hour narrated training for health care providers on AHT/SBS and its identification and diagnosis. The companion 22-minute Presentation, "Infant Crying and Soothing: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Baby Safe" is a prevention education tool for viewing by parents and caregivers in a variety of health care settings. These tools include over 80 referenced slides presented in an attractive, well-organized and clear format. They contain safety messages parents and caregivers need to know and health care providers can convey and reinforce with the families they serve. (2011)
"It's Not Just Jenna: A True Story of Child Sexual Abuse and Survival" a video and learning/discussion guide. This compelling 18 minute video gives us a close-up look at the trauma of child sexual abuse as it affected Jenna and her family. The companion discussion guide provides viewers a tool to facilitate discussion about the lessons Jenna's story teaches. Together this DVD set is designed to educate teens, parents, teacher and youth-serving professionals about the broader problem of child sexual abuse and what we all need to know to prevent it. (2008)
"Infant Crying and Soothing: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Baby Safe" a teaching brochure, available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, aimed at reducing the number of infant affected by Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). This brochure does this by giving parents and caregivers the information they need to keep their baby safe by informing them about infant crying, teaching some techniques for soothing their fussy infant(s) and helping caregivers find ways to reduce the stress caused by a fussy and/or crying infant. (2005)
"Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention: A Training for Family Serving Professionals" a 25 minute training for a broad range of family serving professionals containing information about Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) and key safety messages that caregivers and parents need to be educated about. Family-serving professionals can teach and reinforce these messages with the families they serve, a strategy which has been found to reduce infant death and disability resulting from SBS. (Now available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.) (2009)
"Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention: a Presentation for Parents and Caregivers" a 20 minute presentation intended to educate a broad range of individuals who care for infants and young children. This presentation discusses the normalcy of infant crying, effective soothing strategies, what caregivers can do when these strategies don't work, how to make safe choices when leaving children with others and what caregivers can do to protect children from SBS and other forms of physical abuse. (Now available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.) (2009)
"Strengthening Families and Preventing Child Abuse through Parent Aides," a 30-minute MassKids-written and produced broadcast-quality video promoted the benefits of parent aides and served as a citizen recruitment and training tool. Distributed and sold nationally. (1988)
6. Educating the public through public awareness campaigns
Enough Abuse Campaign is a public engagement and community mobilization effort to prevent child sexual abuse launched in 2002 under a 5-year grant from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Campaign is operating in several areas of Massachusetts and has been adopted by state/county leaders in New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Nevada, Maine, and in counties in the Greater Bay and Sacramento areas of California. Its strategies include: community organizing, public awareness, professional education, policy and legislative advocacy and media outreach. (2003 – ongoing)
Child Abuse Prevention Month Campaigns with public service ads on child sexual abuse prevention (2002) and general child abuse (2001) posted throughout the MBTA system; fulfilled requests for information from hundreds of callers to MassKids's 800-CHILDREN line.
Promotion of the Campaign for Children and the Massachusetts Agenda for Children through partnerships with several media, including The Boston Globe and The Boston Parents' Paper. Several full-page Globe ads representing $300,000 in donated public service advertising were secured. (1998)
"Never Shake a Baby!" public education campaign in Massachusetts to reduce infant death and disability due to Shaken Baby Syndrome. This first statewide campaign on SBS broadcast public service ads in English and Spanish and distributed widely the MassKids-produced SBS prevention brochure. Over 1 million brochures to date distributed nationwide. (1996)
"Kids and the Candidates" Questionnaire secured responses from Massachusetts Gubernatorial candidates. Results were published widely and mailed to over 5,000 selected voters and opinion leaders. Secured pro bono placement of Questionnaire and Responses in a special stand-alone supplement in The Boston Parents Paper. (1998)
First national public service ad on child sexual abuse, produced by MassKids in collaboration with Marvel Comics and WBZ-TV. (1987)
"Jenny's Abuse,"America's first statewide sexual abuse prevention media campaign, produced by MassKids and Knockout Films. Fulfilled requests for prevention materials from over 5,000 citizens. The series of three 30-second PSAs won 4th place at the International Film Festival in New York City, and the Boston Art Directors Club Gold Medal. (1985)
7. Mobilizing citizen action on legislative/policy issues
MassKids educates and mobilizes citizen action through social media, its comprehensive website, e-mail newsletters, and special legislative advocacy alerts.
In collaboration with Senator Joan Lovely, MassKids helped draft S.295, the Comprehensive Child Sexual Abuse Prevention bill which includes provisions to mandate education of public and private school personel and youth organizaion staff on the issue and the development of safe child policies; prohibit the practice of "passing the trash", increase the number of mandated reporters; and close loopholes in the age of consent law to hold sexual abusers civilly and criminally accountable.(2016 - present)
MassKids co-chairs the Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse Laws (CORSAL). The Coalition worked sucessfully to pass civil Statute of Limitations reform legislation which now extends to age 53 the timeframe within which survivors of child sexual abuse can file charges against their alleged abusers. Govenor Patrick signed this emergency bill on June 26, 2014
MassKids successfully defeated an attempt to establish a religious exemption for medical neglect of children in 2008 and 2010.
MassKids was a key leader in the successful effort to reform the State's criminal Statute of Limitations law in cases of child sexual abuse in 2006. SOL was extended from 15 years past a victim’s 16th birthday to 27 years past a victim’s 16th birthday, i.e. from age 31 to age 43.
MassKids wrote the initial draft of the Massachusetts SBS prevention bill that was signed into law in 2006. It was the first law to secure an appropriation for a statewide prevention initiative.
Since its work to pass the "Battered Baby Bill" in 1979, MassKids has lobbied for numerous amendments to 51A over the years. Most recently, it lobbied to include clergy as mandated reporters and opposed efforts to exempt Christian Scientist practitioners from reporting suspected child abuse, including medical neglect.
MassKids spearheaded efforts to establish a child death review system in Massachusetts through its 1992 conference. Its collaboration with the Department of Public Health, the Medical Examiner's Office, several law enforcement and private sector groups, as well as its citizen mobilization efforts, resulted in passage of the child death review law in 1997.
MassKids led a coalition of over 20 organizations that after three years resulted in legislative repeal of Massachusetts' religious exemption law, which had allowed parents of faith-healing sects to withhold medically necessary care for their seriously ill children. (1993)
MassKids co-convened a meeting with MSPCC and the Academy of Pediatrics in 1991 that spearheaded efforts to change Massachusetts' status as one of only two states in the country without a criminal child abuse law. Legislation making egregious cases of child abuse a felony was passed in (1993)
MassKids provided initial advocacy for the development of legislation to establish a Children's Trust Fund to support community child abuse prevention efforts. (1985) Through a joint initiative of the Executive Office of Human Services, the Special Legislative Commission on Violence Against Children and MassKids, the state's first child abuse prevention plan was developed which provided critical rationale for the subsequent passage of the Trust Fund legislation.
8. Filing legal actions and amicus curiae briefs to the court
MassKids's class action suit on behalf of abused children was filed against the Commonwealth in 1979. In 1984 MassKids successfully negotiated a four-year "Settlement Agreement for the Protection of Abused and Neglected Children" with the Executive Office of Human Services and the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. In 1988, MassKids produced a comprehensive "Compliance Report" to evaluate DSS performance on each provision of the Agreement.
Selected Amicus Briefs:
Danaipour v. McLarey heard by the United States Court of Appeal for the First Circuit
Issue: whether the District court erred in its interpretation of Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention by imposing improper barriers for proving sexual abuse. MassKids challenged a lower court's decision that two girls sexually abused by their father in Sweden should be returned there to undergo evaluations. The case addressed the specific provisions of the Hague Convention (Article 13b) intended to protect children from future harm if returned to their country of origin. In this precedent setting case, the court ruled that the children should not be returned to Sweden, the place of abuse and their abuser. (2003)
T.F. v B.L. heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Issue: whether the obligation to pay child support under Massachusetts law extends to the non-biological parent of a child whose birth was planned and intended by a same sex couple. MassKids argued that an individual who intends to bring a child into the world and agrees to be a parent to that child should be responsible for parental support, especially given that the child would not have been born if it had not been by mutual agreement. Children born into non-traditional families should be protected equally as are children with two biological parents. (2003)
Extending Custody of Vaughn to Juvenile Court heard by the Massachusetts Appeals Court
Issue: whether the Juvenile Court erred by not making written findings concerning the effect of a father's abuse of a child's mother before awarding permanent custody of that child to the father. MassKids argued that courts should be required to make findings of fact regarding domestic violence and its effects in determining custody awards in all types of cases. Courts should not distinguish between care and protection proceedings and other types of custody disputes when making the type of findings required by Custody of Vaughn. Best interests of the child requires that courts consider the effect of domestic violence on that child. (2003)
Care and Protection of Georgette heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court:
Issue: whether an attorney appointed under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 117 to represent a minor child in a state intervention case is obligated to follow a standard of representation based upon the direction of the client or the best interests of the child. MassKids argued that the S. J.C. should articulate a consistent and reliable standard for determining the role of attorneys appointed to represent children and that this determination should be made by a judge. It advocated that the decision be based upon an articulated standard that accounts for the 1) age, 2) maturity, and 3) trauma experienced by the child. (2002)
Walsh v. Walsh heard by United States Court of Appeal for the First Circuit
Issue: whether the District court erred in its interpretation of Article 13(b) of The Hague Convention when it ordered two children returned to their father in Ireland, despite the fact that the father had a documented history of committing abuse toward the children's mother and that the children had witnessed these acts. MassKids argued that the commission of domestic abuse, the children's witnessing of the abuse, and the history of violent behavior posed a significant risk to the children. Thus, Article 13(b) would permit a U.S. court to refuse their return to Ireland because doing so would expose them to psychological and physical harm. The brief contended that Article 20 would support the refusal to return the children to Ireland because the fundamental principles of the requested State (the United States) relating to the protection of human rights and fundamental rights would not permit such a return. The appeal court found in favor of the mother and dismissed the father's petition for custody. (2002)
Marinelli heard by the Barnstable County Probate Court
Issue: whether a 4 year-old boy who had been sexually assaulted by his father should be ordered to continue visitation. Under Massachusetts law, courts must consider evidence of past or present abuse toward a child as a factor against the best interests of the child, so as to prevent the awarding of visitation or legal or physical custody to the abuser parent. MassKids argued that visitation should be halted immediately and that, if and when it resumed, it occur only at a court approved visitation center. (2001)
9. Conducting public opinion surveys
Community Public Opinion Surveys on Child Sexual Abuse
Three community surveys involving 150 citizens each were conducted in Newton, Gloucester and Orange-Athol in collaboration with Kids Count, the UMass Poll, and the MA Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership. (September 2003 and September 2007)
Public Opinion Survey on Child Sexual Abuse
First statewide public opinion survey on child sexual abuse of 325 citizens conducted in collaboration with Kids Count, the UMass Poll, and the MA Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Partnership. (March 2003 and September 2007)
Public Opinion Poll on Child Abuse Prevention
Testing of possible referendum question on the issue. (2001)
Public Opinion and the Status of Children in Massachusetts
Over 400 citizens responded to 45-question surveys which addressed a range of issues affecting children, including family economic issues and child abuse. (2000 and 1998)
10. Promoting its positions through the media
MassKids is the source the media turns to for an independent view of issues that affect children in the Commonwealth. Its views regularly appear in major print and electronic media outlets across the state and country. Several MassKids commentaries have been published as Boston Sunday Globe "Focus Section" articles, op editorials and Letters to the Editor. The organization's work has been highlighted in several news araticles and editorials including in The New York Times, the Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Boston Business Journal, The Boston Parents' Paper.