CHINS hearing

Testimony being given at a CHINS reform hearing

CHINS Reform History

On August 7, 2012, Governor Patrick signed the CHINS reform bill (S.2410 An Act Regarding Children and Families Engaged in Services) into law, giving thousands of at-risk youth and their families direct access to help and services in their communities. Find out more about CHINS and what this new law means for children in Massachusetts.

The Children’s League of Massachusetts is incredibly grateful to everyone who helped make this reform a reality, including: Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Paul Donato for championing the bill in the Legislature; Governor Patrick for his swift signature; EOHHS Secretary Bigby for her support; our Legislative champions for their determination; the advocates who called and emailed; and, the youth who came forward and shared their stories, putting faces and names to the CHINS reform effort.

Below are documents, links, and other items that chronicle the history of the CHINS Reform fight.

What is CHINS?
Who are CHINS Kids? 
From CHINS to FACES – S.1963
Stakeholder Testimony
Media Links 

What was the CHINS System?

CHINS stands for Children in Need of Services; and refers to the system through which parents, schools and the police sought help when a child was exhibiting high risk and potentially dangerous behavior.  The idea was that by filing a CHINS petition, or ‘CHINS’, a child would gain access to help and services that can improve behavior, support the child and help them avoid future incidents with the criminal justice system. However, in most cases, that is not how things worked out.

‘CHINS kids’ referred to youth who were in most instances dealing with serious problems, including substance abuse, undiagnosed mental health conditions, domestic violence and sexual abuse.  They needed services and support, but under the CHINS process, the juvenile justice system was their only option to get it.  The child and family goes into court seeking help to remain a family and, with alarming frequency, were torn apart. This had a significant, negative emotional impact on their lives.

To truly help these children, they and their families needed services provided by trained clinical and support professionals in community-based settings, involving the juvenile justice system only when necessary.

The goal of CHINS reform was to help children get the care they need without the stigma of being court-involved.

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Who were CHINS kids?

There have been thousands of CHINS kids across Massachusetts throughout the years.  Here are just a few of their stories.

Mary Jane of Mattapan was labeled a “stubborn child” in her CHINS petition. While she admits to not always following the rules of her grandmoth­er’s home, the real issue was that Mary Jane was missing months of school.  The reason? The daughter of the man that raped her went to the same school, and was telling all of her friends. Mary Jane believed everyone in the school knew what had happened to her and she could not face it.

Each year, 8,000 Massachusetts families with children who were not attending school or responding to parental guidance, and who may have been struggling with mental health, domestic violence, bullying or other issues were routed through the court system through the filing of a CHINS petition in order to get help.

 I heard some heart-wrenching stories from some young adults of what they went through in the system, and I realized that while for some it works, for many, it doesn’t.
– Senator Karen E. Spilka, (D-Ashland)

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Families and Children Engaged in Services – S.1963

Senator Karen E. Spilka and Representative Paul J. Donato introduced An Act Relative to Families and Children Engaged in Services for the 2011-2012 legislative session.  Read the Legislative Fact Sheet released at CLM’s 2012 Advocacy Day.

This Legislation:

  • Reforms the Children in Need of Services (CHINS) to Families and Children Engaged in Services (FACES);
  • Transforms the current juvenile court-based system to a community-based and family and child focused system; and
  • Provides wrap-around services that have been proven successful in assisting children with many of the underlying issues that currently lead to a CHINS petition.

On June 27, hundreds of activists came together to rally for CHINS reform in front of the State House. Their message was clear: “If It’s broke, Fix It!”

View photos and video clips from the CHINS Rally.

Related Documents

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Testimony on CHINS





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