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Posted April 12, 2003 

When Choosing a Residential School In MA -
The Importance of Appropriate Licensing

By Andrea Watson, Project Coordinator PFRR, Attorney Tim Sindelar, PFRR Advisory Board Member

[Andrea Watson is Project Coordinator, parent and founder of Parents for Residential Reform - A Project of The Federation for Children with Special Needs, Boston, MA, 617-236-7210 x 145, or 800-672-7084, Fax: 617-572-2094, pfrr@fcsn.org, and Tim Sindelar is with Hilton and Moos in Cambridge, MA]

When families place their child in group care, either in a residential school or group home, they are placing the life of their child in others' hands. Safety, as well as appropriate service delivery, should be their highest priority. Appropriate licensing is crucial when choosing a residential placement. The Office for Child Care Services (OCCS) should license all residential placements, even if they're 766 approved. This ensures that these facilities meet the same standardized objectives and criteria that other facilities that serve children, especially children with special needs, must meet. Even though Parents for Residential Reform (PFRR) would like to see an increase in these standards, an OCCS-licensed program at least meets minimum qualifications to serve this population of children. Programs without OCCS licensing may not be appropriate.

OCCS sets standards on restraint, medication, staff qualifications, staff to student ratio, intake, service planning, nutrition planning, equipment, education services, behavior management, clothing, room assignments, grooming/hygiene, money, visiting, mail, telephones, runaways, transportation, building safety, physical plant and equipment, physical facility/architectural barriers, living units, access to records, criminal background checks for employees and much more. OCCS staff monitors the programs, provides information to parents and others, and investigates complaints.

A residential school should be 766 approved. This means the program meets the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) standards to provide special education services to children on an IEP (Individualized Education Program), follows the curriculum frameworks, provides access to the general curriculum and also complies with standards for health, welfare, and safety. This approval is granted through Program Quality Assurance Services (PQA) at DOE. PFRR is now posting the most recent DOE progress reports about 766-approved residential schools on their website.

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