Mossaides named state’s new Child Advocate

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Written by Colin A. Young

STATE HOUSE — As his administration works to address persistent problems at the agency charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday named Cambridge Family and Children’s Service Executive Director Maria Mossaides as state’s next Child Advocate, an independent office with a charge to improve the safety and well-being of children.

Mossaides previously held senior positions within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Administration and Finance and the in the state’s judicial system, according to Baker’s office. She also has served on the board of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, including a stint as its chair from 2012 to 2014.

“I believe that the right skill mix for this job is somebody who, you know, can hit the ground running. She can certainly do that,” Baker told reporters Thursday afternoon. “Somebody who knows something about what I would describe as sort of investigatory techniques, but also the ability to answer the final questions, which is ‘and therefore I would recommend doing the following…’ and who has enough boots on the ground experience to make the kinds of recommendations that people like us would be able to use and pursue pretty aggressively in the short term.”

Gail Garinger, the only person to hold the child advocate post since it was established under a 2008 law, was set to retire on Friday, according to Baker’s office. But on Thursday, shortly after new broke about her successor, Garinger was appointed as director of the attorney general’s new Child and Youth Protection Unit, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.

“There is no one better to lead our efforts to protect the health and well-being of the more than 1.5 million children in our state,” Healey said in a statement. “Judge Garinger will lead a thoughtful, focused and coordinated approach to engage with the child advocacy community to better serve our youngest residents. Under Judge Garinger’s leadership we can build on the good work that has already been done by so many and create new opportunities for effective collaboration.”

The next child advocate, Mossaides, graduated cum laude from Mount Holyoke College, received her law degree from SUNY at Buffalo, and has a master’s in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, according to a biography on the Cambridge Family and Children’s Service website. She has also served as acting commissioner of the Office of Children.

“I went to law school many years ago to serve as an advocate for children. Child welfare is my soul work,” Mossaides said in a statement. “For me to work on a statewide basis to make sure that all children have the opportunity to thrive, I can’t think of a better job.”

Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, on Thursday called the appointment of Mossaides “great” and said she will be “a fresh set of eyes” looking at issues involving kids.

“Maria has been around for quite some time and has focused on our most vulnerable population and I really think she will bring an independent voice to the Office of the Child Advocate, especially at a time when there is so much going on with young people in Massachusetts,” Flanagan said. “She’ll be a great addition to the team of people working to protect kids in Massachusetts.”

The Children’s League of Massachusetts applauded Baker’s appointment, calling Mossaides “both a creative thinker and a tireless advocate.”

“The largely voiceless children of the Commonwealth will have a powerful defender of their safety and staunch advocate of their success in one of the top independent positions of state government,” Children’s League Executive Director Erin Bradley said in a statement. “Having worked closely with Maria during her time as chair of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, I know from firsthand experience that no one has thought more deeply about how best the Commonwealth can support our most vulnerable citizens.”

Linda Carlisle, who ran the former Department of Social Services under Gov. William Weld and then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Charlie Baker, was named acting child advocate and will serve until Mossaides takes over on Oct. 13.

On Wednesday, Garinger released a report that found Department of Children and Families social workers are set up “to fail,” with high caseloads and a lack of managerial structure. Baker said the report’s conclusions aligned with the administration’s own findings about the need to update policies at the agency.

Last week, the Baker administration released a report calling for a series of reforms at DCF — particularly in the central and western parts of the state — based on its handling of the case of a 7-year-old Hardwick boy now in a coma after he was allegedly abused and starved by his father.

Several high-profile cases that have put the department under scrutiny have originated from DCF’s western region, including the 2013 disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy whose body was later found along a highway in Sterling. A report on the unexplained death of a 2-year-old girl who died last month in foster care in Auburn is due by the end of September.

Copyright State House News Service