BOSTON — Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche huddled with lawmakers for two hours Thursday in a closed door meeting that she described as “productive” and focused on ways to improve the agency.
“It is about continuing to focus on how we strengthen our system and how we work cooperatively to support our families and children and to create the best system of care that our children can have,” Roche said after leaving the office of Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick), who chairs the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee.
Roche said the meeting was held privately to discuss confidential issues. The meeting, described as an “executive conference,” was not about her role as commissioner, Roche said.
“This was about in relationship to our department, in relationship to the continued work that we have to do to ensure the safety of our children and to strengthen our work and to strengthen the support of our social workers as well to do the very best job they can do for families and children.”
Gail Garinger, the state’s Child Advocate, who also attended, said she expects future follow-up meetings.
“I thought it was a very useful meeting. A lot of more specific questions following up on the public hearing,” Garinger said.
Cayenne Isaksen, a spokeswoman for DCF, said the commissioner was complying with a request from lawmakers to meet, and was sent a list of questions beforehand. Roche was before lawmakers last month during a lengthy public hearing called to discuss problems at the embattled agency.
Arriving at the State House around 10:30 a.m., Roche walked past reporters, refusing to comment about why she was meeting privately with lawmakers from two committees – Post Audit and Oversight, and Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Rep. Kay Khan, who co-chairs the Children and Families Committees, refused to comment, saying only that she was getting ready for a meeting before the group of lawmakers met privately. Other lawmakers headed into the meeting also refused to comment.
Operations at DCF have been under a microscope since the department lost track of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy now believed to be dead. The disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver sparked questions about problems at the department charged with protecting abused and neglected children.
A social worker, supervisor and area manager were fired in connection with the mishandling of the Oliver case after the Fitchburg boy’s sister went to school officials and authorities learned he had not been seen since September and the assigned caseworker had not checked in on him since May.
Gov. Deval Patrick last month brought in Washington D.C.-based Child Welfare League of America to review DCF’s operations. Patrick said he was looking for “actionable” recommendations from the organization after looking at written and unwritten policies at the agency, current caseloads, the licensing and general qualifications of social workers, and the oversight of outside vendors.