BOSTON — Two dozen state lawmakers, including eight Democrats, signed a letter sent to Gov. Deval Patrick asking him to seek the resignation of Olga Roche, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
In the letter written by Republican state Reps. Ryan Fattman of Webster and Leah Cole of Peabody, the House members cited what they called a mishandling of cases by DCF and failure to protect children in state care.
The agency has been under scrutiny since social workers lost track of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who hasn’t been seen by relatives since September and is feared dead.
“Both Democrats and Republicans agree that Commissioner Roche has not offered a comprehensive solution to solving the epic failures of the Department of Children and Families, and it is time for some leadership that will make protecting children its number one priority,” Fattman said in a statement.
But Patrick, a Democrat, has repeatedly expressed his support for Roche, including after Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker called for Roche to step down.
“I think the suggestion of the commissioner stepping aside … is a political one and, frankly, a stupid one from a management point of view,” Patrick told WBUR in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t think you add to the destabilization of DCF by yanking out a commissioner who has spent her whole career on these issues.”
Rep. David Linsky, who is reviewing DCF procedures as chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, said lawmakers must focus on the entire agency, not a personnel decision.
“Replacing the commissioner or not replacing the commissioner is probably a distraction because the department has bigger issues than that,” he told WBUR Friday.
Among the eight Democrats who signed the letter was Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton, House chairman of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee.
The letter referenced a report from the state’s child advocate that found that DCF social workers missed nearly one in five required home visits over a recent 12-month period. Administration officials said that figure was misleading because it does not account for visits held in other settings, such as schools, and lag times in paperwork.
Other signers of the letter were House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading; and Reps. Jonathan Zlotnik, D-Gardner; Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg; Matthew Beaton, R-Shrewsbury; Peter Durant, R-Charlton; Kimberly Ferguson, R-Holden; Paul Frost, R-Auburn; Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge; George Peterson, R-Grafton; Todd Smola, R-Palmer; James O’Day, D-West Boylston; Anne Gobi, D-Spencer; John Mahoney, D-Worcester; Daniel Donahue, D-Worcester; Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster; Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk; Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton; James Lyons, R-North Andover; Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica; Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman; and Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick.
With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom