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The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) is one of the oldest continuing private nonprofit children’s agencies in operation in the United States. “Back in the late 1800s, there were a number of these societies and most of them have become obsolete and no longer exist because the state has taken over the role of protecting children from abuse,” said General Counsel Joseph E. McElroy Jr., 57. The MSPCC essentially performs the same function as the Department of Social Services (DSS) serves today. In 1991, legislation terminated the contract with MSPCC and brought all the work back inside DSS. “At that point, we did a major shift in direction,” McElroy said. Although MSPCC continues to have contracts with DSS, the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health, its major focus is on prevention. “We have health clinics across the state that provide a wide range of behavior health services for families and children,” McElroy said. “A lot of the population we work with are DSS clients and we provide services and work with children and parents and families, in addition to the work with family counseling services. In addition, we also do early intervention programs dealing with children up to 3 years old.” A HEALTHY START McElroy believes the best way to protect children and a family from abusive situations is early education about prevention. “Prevent child abuse before it begins!” he said. “We published an owner’s manual for new babies called ‘Good Start, Healthy Families Initiative’ that deals with what young new parents might expect. We go into homes and talk with parents about milestones for children and how to handle and nurture and promote healthy development.” With an in-house lobbyist to work with state-level and national-level legislation, the MSPCC brings prevention treatment and advocacy into the public arena. FOCUSING ON EDUCATION Following in his younger brother’s footsteps, McElroy attended Massachusetts’ Suffolk University at night for four years, while teaching elementary school in Braintree, Mass. “I was a school teacher and always worked in some capacity with children. My first year was in a private parochial school in Boston and then I went to Braintree. My younger brother was in seminary studying to be a priest and went to law school instead,” McElroy said. “It prompted me to apply and I went nights until I graduated in 1975.” In the meantime, McElroy also received a masters of arts in teaching. “I continued to teach and tried to practice on the side as a part-time basis, but found it to be difficult and awkward attempting to schedule court dates for school vacations,” he said. “In 1980, DSS came into existence and I had begun to teach some courses on teacher responsibility.” McElroy’s focus on teacher responsibility was in accordance with the Mandated Reporter Law, Chapter 119, Section 51A, Mass General Law, whereby “various professionals are mandated to report if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is being abused or neglected.” HOME FRONT McElroy was born and raised in Massachusetts, growing up in Roxbury, Dorchester and eventually South Shore when he was a teen-ager. McElroy married his wife, Pamela, a dental assistant, in 1967. They are the parents of three adopted children — Joseph, Jennifer and Adam. IN-HOUSE LIFE “I was hired in 1988 and I had been working as an attorney for DSS. I largely came over to perform the same role — prosecute child abuse cases.” In 1991 McElroy became a much more traditional “in-house counsel and not in court four days a week handling care and protection cases. Now, I do a variety of things, including legal trainings for staff statewide, dealing with testifying in court, response to clients, what can and can’t be said, and dealing with protection of clients.” McElroy continues to work with human resources at MSPCC in hiring, firing, payroll, as well as disability act and family/medical-leave act matters. “In general, I serve as legal counsel internally reviewing contracts and dealing with outside counsel when they are involved.” ADVICE FROM THE FIELD McElroy’s observation for a successful career in law is for law students to enter summer associates programs and for all attorneys to make pro bono work a part of their careers. “I encourage all attorneys to consider pro bono work and believe that would be an enriching part of their career and add a different outlook and an opportunity to provide a service to those who are less able to afford the need. My agency has certainly been the beneficiary of kindness from pro bono attorneys.” McElroy also strongly urges and encourages the profession “to return to a level of civility that seems, at times, to have disappeared. I think the image of the profession has suffered by the lack of civility. We should embrace the jokes and take them as a good humor, but don’t become fodder for the jokester’s mill.” PROUD MOMENTS “I was honored a number of years ago with the Francis Molly award for contributing to overall morale of the agency, which is particularly unique to be awarded to an attorney. I wake up every morning and love coming to work, and working with the people and the purpose we provide. I sleep well at night with my mission statement. Over the years I’ve helped to reunite some families in a situation where the children are safer. And, in the cases where reunification wasn’t possible, we created better lives for those children.”

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