Judge Gail Garinger will have the authority to investigate, review, monitor and evaluate critical incidents of child abuse or neglect. She also will be authorized to review any agency investigation of a critical incident and conduct her own independent investigation.
“The health and safety of children across the commonwealth is of utmost importance to all of us,” said Gov. Deval Patrick in a statement released last Thursday announcing the appointment. “In appointing Judge Gail Garinger as Massachusetts’ first-ever child advocate, I am excited to have a talented and committed leader who can help enhance existing policies and develop new practices to best protect and care for children in our care and custody.”
Garinger said in the same statement: “My goal and challenge as child advocate is to help coordinate their efforts to improve the provision of services and to ensure the safety of all children in Massachusetts.”
Child welfare is a perennial issue in Massachusetts, with recent high-profile cases such as those involving Haleigh Poutre raising questions about how well the state oversees children in need.
Poutre was 11 when she was hospitalized in 2005 in a near vegetative state, allegedly after a beating at the hands of her stepfather and adoptive mother. The state got permission to remove her from life support, saying she had no hope of recovery, but Haleigh improved before they could act.
Last Monday, a man accused of using a cigarette to burn the genitals of a 7-year-old boy was ordered to remain behind bars as he awaits trial. David Privette, 22, of Boston, was arrested last week and charged with repeatedly abusing his girlfriend’s son. The Middleborough boy told a school nurse that Privette burned him, whipped him with a belt and urinated on his head. The boy’s mother, Michelle Henry, is charged with reckless endangerment and assault and battery. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Commissioner Angelo McClain said the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) made mistakes in the case, including failing to do its own physical examination of the boy after school officials reported he was being abused, beginning in December. McClain is also seeking 80 to 100 more DSS social workers.
The child advocate will be located within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, but will be independent. She will report annually to the governor, the secretary of Health and Human Services, the speaker of the House and the Senate president on priorities for children’s services and recommendations for improving them.
Garinger is a 1972 graduate of Harvard Law School and has worked as general counsel at Children’s Hospital. After several years in private practice, she was appointed to the Juvenile Court in 1995. In 2001, Garinger was appointed first justice of the Juvenile Court in Middlesex County, the largest county in the state. She begins her new job on April 28.