BOSTON Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray called on the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families to resign Monday citing a lack of leadership at the child welfare agency and the recent deaths of two children under DCF supervision, including one over the weekend.
Gov. Deval Patrick, who has defended DCF Commissioner Olga Roche, said Monday he no longer has confidence in the department and said Roche “has some questions to answer for me.”
The two top Democratic lawmakers, DeLeo and Murray, said Roche needs to step down now.
“We can’t wait until the end of the year. We can’t wait for a new governor,” DeLeo said. “We have to take action now.”
Murray issued a statement saying “in combination with Commissioner Roche’s resignation, we need to make sure we are bringing someone in to turn this agency around. ”
The comments put added pressure on Patrick to replace Roche.
On Monday, Patrick said he was as upset as anyone about the deaths, including that of a third child under DCF supervision, 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver.
“I don’t have confidence at this point in the agency and I’m very worried about the agency,” Patrick said. “My confidence in the whole organization has been rattled.”
Patrick said he wants to make sure any action he takes “actually does something other than just throwing another scalp to the public.”
“The question is how do we get to the solution and I’m not confident that that is an adequate solution but she has some questions to answer for me,” Patrick said of Roche.
Authorities say the family of a Fitchburg baby who died over the weekend was being monitored by state child welfare officials. They say 2-week old Bailey Irish was brought to the hospital on Saturday morning by her parents. She was pronounced dead a short time later.
In an unrelated case, a DCF spokeswoman says a fax from Grafton police about possible harm to another infant who later died was misplaced for six days. The agency said it’s reviewing its policies regarding reports received via fax after the death of 4-week-old Aliana Lavigne and has updated mandated reporter forms to include phone numbers for all area offices.
Both deaths remain under investigation.
A visibly upset DeLeo said the time has passed for Roche to step down.
“We’ve had three children, three children in the last two or three weeks … who have now been found dead,” DeLeo said. “We can’t afford to keep on in this manner.”
A spokesman for Roche declined to comment immediately on demands that she resign.
Earlier this month, the body of Oliver was found off a highway in central Massachusetts. His family was also under DCF supervision at the time of his disappearance. Jeremiah was last seen in September but wasn’t reported missing until December. Police said his death appeared to be a homicide.
Oliver’s mother and boyfriend are facing charges in connection with his disappearance, but not his death.
In February, two dozen Massachusetts lawmakers sent a letter to Patrick seeking Roche’s resignation.
Charlie Baker, a Republican candidate for governor, has also called on Roche to step down. Democratic gubernatorial candidates Steven Grossman and Joe Avellone on Monday also called for her resignation.
DeLeo said a missing or lost fax is no excuse for DCF to lose track of a child.
“That was the end of the line for me,” DeLeo said. “These are major incidents. We have children who are dying at this point.”
Jason Stephany a spokesman for Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union, SEIU Local 509, which represents DCF workers, said DeLeo’s comments reinforce workers’ calls for “true accountability, real investment and institutional reform” at the department.
Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.