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Shelter Restrictions

In comparing the Massachusetts shelter restriction statute to those of other states, Massachusetts' use of the phrase ``child under eighteen'' is beneficial to the state's homeless youth and should not be changed during any future statute revisions. The phrase provides strength in that it requires shelter staff to have official knowledge that the youth in question is under eighteen before any person or agency can be contacted or before the youth can be denied shelter.

Shelter staff often gather crucial information about the young person in the conversations that lead up to a minor revealing her age.415 In the process of determining minority status, the shelter staff can, and usually does, ascertain the young person's health, background, and living situation. These details, usually only revealed in these conversation with the minor, can be crucial in helping staff to match appropriate services and resources to these young clients. A positive aspect of the 72-hour restriction is that these beneficial conversations will generally happen in that time period.416

Massachusetts should also look at the Tennessee version of a shelter restriction statute, which states that shelter staff must make a ``good faith'' effort to notify the runaway's parents.417 This would provide a remedy in situations where notifying parents is difficult. Once the good faith effort was made, shelter could then be provided regardless of the success of the attempted contact. It would also allow shelter staff, who have significant contact with the youth, to make discretionary determinations. This would leave the decision in the hands of dedicated professionals. If the intent of the law is to provide services for children, it makes sense to give discretion to the professionals providing those services.

Massachusetts could adopt a statute specifying that notification need not be made where compelling reasons argue against it. These statutes have been enacted in Alaska, Louisiana, and New York, and are a response to the Federal notification rules.418 These laws leave some discretion to the shelter workers in terms of who must be reported.

In conclusion, Massachusetts must figure out a way to give the shelter staff discretion despite the plain language of the Federal rules. One way of doing this is by giving shelter staff the power to decide how much effort needs to be put into contacting parents before shelter is provided, or to allow shelter staff to decide who should be reported, and who should not. The clear intent of this legislation when was passed in 1974 was to provide services for children. This statute may have the opposite effect of not allowing children to get one of the most necessary services, long-term shelter. JRI could show legislators the effects of the 1974 laws, and express the need for these amendments to the statute that have already been adopted in New York, Maine, Alaska, and Louisiana.


See Interview with Genny Price, supra n. 75.
Paradise and Horowitz, supra n. 12, at 4.
Paradise and Horowitz, supra n.12, at 4.

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