The Associated Press

DCF Chief Olga Roche Resigns After Deaths

Gov. Deval Patrick, who had earlier defended DCF chief Olga Roche, said it was clear now that Roche had the expertise to do her job but no longer had the support of the public or her staff. (Josh Reynolds/AP

Gov. Deval Patrick, who had earlier defended DCF chief Olga Roche, said it was clear now that Roche had the expertise to do her job but no longer had the support of the public or her staff. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

BOSTON — The embattled head of Massachusetts’ child welfare agency resigned Tuesday under intense scrutiny of the department following the unrelated deaths of three children, with Gov. Deval Patrick saying it was impossible for her to continue in the job.

Olga Roche’s resignation comes after calls from top Democratic lawmakers — including Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray — for Roche to be replaced as commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

“I have accepted her resignation because I believe it is not possible for the agency to move forward in this environment with her at the helm,” said John Polanowicz, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees the DCF.

Erin Deveney, who joined the agency March 31 as deputy commissioner for operations, was named to lead DCF on an interim basis until a permanent commissioner is named. Deveney formerly served as general counsel at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Patrick said he had previously declined Roche’s offers to step down, but it was now clear that while she had the expertise to do the job, she no longer had the support of the public or many in her own department.

“I don’t think the time is right, but it’s necessary,” he said. “She cannot garner the confidence of the public or her line staff.”

The three recent deaths involved a 4-week-old baby from Grafton, a 2-week-old baby from Fitchburg and 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg, whose body was found by the side of a highway this month and whose family had been under DCF supervision at the time of his disappearance last year.

In the Grafton case, DCF has said that a fax sent to the agency by Grafton police concerning possible harm to the baby, Aliana Lavigne, was misplaced for six days.

Patrick on Tuesday faulted police for not calling the agency directly to report the information, but he also said the fax should have been acted on immediately.

Erin Deveney, center, has been named interim DCF commissioner. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Erin Deveney, center, who joined the DCF March 31 as deputy commissioner for operations, was named to lead DCF on an interim basis. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

“Somebody in that agency read that fax and didn’t deal with it,” the governor said. He later clarified that he did not know who specifically might have seen the fax when it arrived.

Polanowicz said the message, when it was discovered, was treated as a non-emergency call because there was no indication from the police report that the child was in any imminent danger.

The Grafton police chief acknowledged police should have called DCF, but he also defended his officers, saying the agency was trying to deflect blame.

In the third case, 2-week-old Bailey Irish of Fitchburg was brought to the hospital on Saturday morning by her parents and pronounced dead a short time later. The baby’s family was being monitored by child welfare officials.

The deaths of the infants remain under investigation, according to the Worcester district attorney’s office.

Jeremiah’s case had prompted multiple inquiries even before the discovery of the child’s body. Relatives said the boy had not been seen since September but police did not learn of the disappearance until months later. The boy’s mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the case.

Facing questions about her ability to lead the DCF, commissioner Olga Roche points to her 27 years of experience. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

DCF Commissioner Olga Roche (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Three DCF employees were fired and a fourth was disciplined after an investigation found that a social worker assigned to the family had missed several scheduled visits and agency staff missed other opportunities to engage with the family.

Roche, who had more than 30 years of experience in social services for the state, assured legislators in January that all other young children whose families were being monitored by DCF had been accounted for.

Deveney said her immediate priorities included the hiring of more staff to reduce caseloads and implementing mobile technology to improve communication with social workers in the field.

DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat who publicly called for Roche’s resignation on Monday, said in a statement Tuesday that new leadership at the agency was only a first step.

“DCF is an agency in crisis; and we must immediately undertake the difficult, but crucial, task of creating an effective structure of protection and care for our most vulnerable children,” DeLeo said.

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  • Ray in VT

    Blame the black woman. The firing of Olga Roche uses the same mentality as Donald Sterling.

    • dust truck

      Could you elaborate? Did Olga make some racist comments?

      • Ray in VT

        No, firing her uses the same logic that Donald Sterling has.

  • Ray in VT

    #FreeJustina #LetJustinaSpeak

  • dust truck

    Still blows my mind that DSS was so badly mismanaged that they changed the name to DCF to avoid all the bad publicity… and then they totally ruin DCF too.

    How on earth can any person or institution be so inept?

  • Uncle Rex

    Successfully serving a free market’s unknown customers depends upon knowing a thousand particulars that will be learned only by those with an interest in knowing them.

  • David Girard

    FREE JUSTINA!!!

  • Tommye-K. Mayer

    Does it occur to anyone that this sad story proves “Austerity” has consequences? Where is the WBUR reporting detailing cuts to the DCF budget which have resulted in DCF case-workers scrambling to oversee more families & children than is humanly possible?

    All I can hear chanting in my mind is this favorite of the American laborer:

    We the wiling, led by the unknowing [in this case decades of politicians committed to slashing at social welfare budgets] doing the impossible for the ungrateful [in this case, those Massachusetts taxpayers who complain about paying the cost of living in a civilized society where children & infants don't die & families don't unravel, otherwise known derisively as taxes].

    We have done so much for so long with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing [except save every child & infant in Massachusetts].

    • Ray in VT

      The government is designed to fail. When they fail, they ask for more money. If we don’t stop it, they will eat us all.

  • Linda MacDonald

    Does it seem to anyone else that when something goes wrong in a department run by a woman she gets blamed but when something goes wrong in one run by a man they get called heroic. Why was Police Chief Davis allowed to stay on when it was under his watch that the marathon bombing took place with police officers in full view of the bombers? Where is the call for a head to roll about the lack of coordination that led to a shooting up of homes on Laurel Street in Watertown? How come the fire chief has his job after two fire fighters die in a fire? Where is the investigation on the department’s response to that fire? Wasn’t a man at the helm of the agency that oversaw the drug testing that Annie Dookin didn’t actually do? It’s probably no mistake that I can’t recall his name off the top of my head but I know hers.

    I think the larger question is that we have a big problem with accountability in this state. Supervision is looked upon as micromanaging. Unions are part of the problem and managers fear of union payback is an even bigger part of the problem. The only profession that seems to be held accountable through the MCAS and a teacher evaluation system that is part of public discourse is Teaching -which is largely female dominated field. Do we ask for evaluations on firefighters, police officers, DPW employees etc.-primarily male dominated fields that seem to be beyond question and fields that the public seems loath to question the effectiveness of an quick to assign blame on factors beyond their control when things go wrong.

    I believe that Roche needed to resign because there was no longer public trust in her ability to lead, but there is a bias in the way politicians deal with tragedies that depends on the gender of the person in charge.

  • fatfenders

    “Roche immediately offered to resign, not for incompetence, but because she was Captain of a failing ship.”???
    It’s generally accepted that when a ship is failing, it’s because of the captains incompetence. You can’t have it both ways.

  • dust truck

    Ugh. So much fail.

  • Ray in VT
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