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Berkshire Residents Share Human Services Concerns with Committee

Jim Levulis

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Children, Families & Persons with Disabilities was in Pittsfield today for a public hearing.

Many members of the public and those representing service organizations voiced their concerns to members of the committee at City Hall in Pittsfield. The hearing was an effort by committee member Tricia Farley-Bouvier to allow Berkshire residents to address the committee. The Democratic representative from Pittsfield organized the meeting after a scheduled hearing in June was canceled. Most of the concerns involved funding, knowledge, and access to programs for those in need. Representative Kay Khan chairs the committee. The Democrat from Newton says poverty is an underlying factor.

“Perhaps even form a poverty commission to really seriously look at why it is that we have so many people struggling in poverty,” Khan said. “That’s something we’re hoping will come out of the legislation we are putting together.”

Berkshire County’s poverty rate is nearly 12 percent, making it one of the poorest counties in the state along with Franklin County. Disabled community members pointed to a lack of job opportunities because of inconsistent public transportation, spotty broadband internet and companies being unaware of tax incentives for hiring the disabled. The committee also heard concerns from organizations serving people with mental, psychological and emotional needs. These focused on a lack of funding and people who don’t qualify for assistance because they don’t fall under the guidelines for a specific disability. Khan says it’s a balancing act between raising taxes to provide additional upfront services or potentially bearing more costs down the road.

“It’s mainly because of resources,” she said. “We’ve had to really tighten up on eligibility, which is really unfortunate. In the long run it’s more costly to the state because many of these clients sometimes end up in a nursing home.”

Kim Borden works as a liaison for foster parents with the state's Department of Children & Family. A foster and adoptive mother herself, Borden says the lengthy legal process prevents children in need from receiving proper attention.

“When rights should be terminated, then rights should be terminated,” Borden said. “The constant ability to appeal when rights have been terminated have held up these adoptions and have kept children’s lives in limbo.”

Khan says her committee is considering creating a subcommittee to address adoption and foster care issues.

“It’s tricky,” Khan said. “How do you determine when somebody is not competent to be a parent? That’s a difficult road to go down. So there are no easy answers. I’m particularly interested in trying to get folks together to take a look at this more seriously and to see if we can make some changes that might be helpful.”

Borden says those who use drugs and alcohol while pregnant need to be held accountable because children born under those conditions suffer from learning and behavior problems later in life.

“If you have a parent who has had four, five, six, seven…nine children who have been removed and who have been placed for adoption, then it should be a no-brainer,” Borden said. “It shouldn’t take four years for one of those children to be adopted.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org