Raises OK’d for child welfare lawyers in western Mass.

State House News Service
Thursday, February 01, 2018

A shortage of attorneys who can handle children and family law cases for the Committee for Public Counsel Services in western Massachusetts prompted the House this week to sign off on temporary raises for those lawyers.

The $16.5 million spending bill that passed the House on Wednesday includes a provision allowing the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) to declare an emergency if it determines there is a “limited availability of qualified private counsel appointed or assigned to care and protection cases in any county.” Once it declares an emergency, CPCS could raise the compensation for such lawyers from $55 per hour to as much as $75 per hour.

“We are currently experiencing a care and custody attorney shortage,” House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Sanchez said on the House floor Wednesday. “Currently, those private bar attorneys are just paid $55 an hour and there aren’t very many attorneys that are going out to deal with the critical issues that deal with such critical issues with such vulnerable children in our communities.”

“The delays impacting families and young people in Western Massachusetts have reached clear and inarguable crisis level and we are pleased that Speaker DeLeo, Chairman Sanchez and the members of the House are acting,” CPCS general counsel Lisa Hewitt wrote in an email to the News Service on Wednesday. “Families with a constitutional right to a 72-hour hearing are enduring weeks-long waits or worse, while children are shuttled from foster home to foster home or worse ... this bill will give us the ability to ensure that hearings can happen in a more timely manner and that children and parents are provided the representation that our Constitution requires.”

CPCS on Thursday announced that it has extended its deadline for attorneys to apply for its spring training courses until Feb. 19.

“There is a significant shortage of CAFL (Children and Family Law Division) lawyers in western Massachusetts. The need is most critical in the Springfield Juvenile Court,” CPCS wrote on its website Thursday. “As a result, we are particularly interested in applicants who are able to accept CAFL appointments in Springfield as soon as possible after successfully completing the certification training.”