The Associated Press

Gov. Patrick: Missing Boy Case Highlights DCF Failures

BOSTON — The failure of the Department of Children and Families to keep track of a missing 5-year-old boy whose family had been under its supervision is inexcusable but has given the state an opportunity to re-examine the agency and make changes, Gov. Deval Patrick said Monday.

Patrick met with representatives of the Child Welfare League of America, which he had asked to conduct an independent review of the state agency. He later told reporters he asked the league to report back to him by the spring, allowing time for lawmakers to pass any proposed legislation that might emerge from the review.

Jeremiah Oliver, of Fitchburg, has not been seen by relatives since September and is feared dead. Police learned he was missing in December. His mother and her boyfriend face charges in connection with his disappearance.

The state’s child advocate, Gail Garinger, who conducted a separate investigation, said in a report last week that the social worker assigned to the family had not made required monthly visits to the home. The social worker, a supervisor and area manager were later fired.

The case has focused attention on the caseload of social workers and the leadership of the agency.

“Nothing can excuse the misrepresentations made and the other failures in the lack of oversight of Jeremiah Oliver and his family,” Patrick said. “The people responsible for that have been dismissed.”

Patrick said staffing and caseload issues are separate, but no less serious.

“I think we have a great opportunity presented, ironically, by this terrible tragedy, to rethink and reinvigorate the department,” he said.

DCF Commissioner Olga Roche, who testified last week at a legislative oversight hearing, did not appear with the governor and Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz at Monday’s news conference. But Patrick insisted he maintained confidence in Roche.

“I think she has shown that she is prepared to step up and be accountable and hold those who are directly responsible for these failures accountable,” Patrick said. “And we need her right now to help us get from here to the end of this department-wide review.”

Garinger’s report found that during a 12-month period ending in November, the statewide completion rate for required monthly visits was 82.5 percent, implying that nearly one in five home visits had been missed during that period. Patrick said while that number was a red flag, it was too early to draw conclusions from it because visits are often held outside the home, such as at schools or DCF offices.

The governor has asked lawmakers to increase funding for DCF to lower the maximum caseload for social workers to 15 families. Jason Stephany, a spokesman for the union that represents social workers, said some now have as many as 20 cases and more than 80 children to monitor.

In addition to any long-term changes, Patrick said the agency would immediately look at personnel shifts that could help even out caseloads assigned to regional offices of the DCF, and technological improvements to reduce paperwork and provide managers with real-time data on home visits.

Stephany said the DCF workers who were fired are not trying to get their jobs back and that the union is looking forward to working with the governor and Roche to correct problems.

“It comes down to action and what’s most important ensuring that the kids be kept safe from abuse and neglect and we want to make sure that we are working with the appropriate managers to get that done,” he said.

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  • Lawrence

    Dear Gov. Patrick,

    Why not simply tell the truth today. That all social services are strained due to severe cutbacks resulting in the taxpayers money given away to big corporations or to those who contributed to your campaign.

    You can then list them, in an act of transparency. This may just make you sleep better since you will confess the truth. Just like going to confession.

    You can start with the $230 million that went to build a mall in Somerville, a private business. Then you can mention the $10 million “loan” to wealthy campaign contributor Carol Sawyer Parks, daughter of taxi magnate Frank Sawyer, former owner of Checker Taxi Co. Who despite her many mansions claims her company went “bankrupt” essentially making the “loan’ an actual theft from the taxpayers.

    And let’s not forget the one that got away due to taxpayer revolt and outrage. The $9 million you wanted to give to the New England Patriots for a silly footbridge.

    Then you can go back to your office, reflect of what you just confessed and maybe even change your corrupt ways, and just maybe the homeless can sleep better in this freezing cold, kids in child welfare won’t be killed anymore and teachers can get their fair pay.

    O’ what a wonderful world it could be.

    • gardenia

      Dear Lawrence,
      I find your note extremely depressing and frightening. It seems like there is absolutely NO transparency even in our usually fair and square state of Massachusetts. Or, I thought Massachusetts is clean. The thought of young children having to suffer in this icy weather is horrifying.

  • gardenia

    It looks to me that MA has more than just a few lazy, incompetent, case workers. I have seen and know that a political connection can get you a position for which you are not qualified. Dangerous, dishonest and deadly.

  • Julie Greene

    It’s true that state workers that visit our homes once a week to babysit us regularly lie to cover up the fact that they aren’t doing their job. I would say that the majority most likely do falsify. If they didn’t, after all, it would be found out that they aren’t doing their jobs.

    I had people coming to my home, that is, if and when they showed up. They would more often than not call ten minutes before arrival time to reschedule, not show at all and not call, or make up lies about having bogus emergencies. One called and spoke to me for about 15 seconds as substitute for a visit, not once or twice but many times. She didn’t show for months at a time.

    Not that I minded. She was incompetent and had no basic knowledge of the job she was supposedly doing. I gained nothing from those visits except that I was inconvenienced. What I learned was that I needed to get rid of state “services” because they did far more harm and no good at all. Julie Greene

  • Bitter Cold

    As the webs of bureaucratic socialism grow thicker, even our brief respites to choose new overseers become insufficient to maintain the mental faculties upon which morality, liberty, and prosperity depend.

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