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Report: DCF Failures Didn’t Cause Boy’s Death

BOSTON — A new report from an independent Washington-based group finds the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families failed to protect a 5-year-old boy who died while under state supervision.

But the long-awaited report also says the agency’s failures did not cause the child’s death.

Back in January, the Patrick administration asked the Child Welfare League of America to dig into concerns about child safety following the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver from Fitchburg.

The new report suggests the agency could have done more, but ultimately is not responsible.

“Saying that the department is not responsible is not the same as saying the department did everything right. The department did not do everything right,” Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs at the Child Welfare League of America, said. “We’re not saying the department is off the hook, please understand me. What we’re saying is that there is not proof the department is on the hook. There is tremendous concern about the way the department did practice in this case.”

Spears says the missed visits and inaccurate records are all clearly problematic.

The report also highlights ongoing problems within the agency, particularly heavy caseloads and outdated technology.

Many social workers lack access to cellphones that would allow them real-time case info.

John Polanowicz, the state health and human services secretary, says the agency is working to upgrade technology.

“We’re in the midst of rolling out over 2,000 more iPads to the frontline social workers so that in the times that they have downtimes or they’re waiting in courts, they have the ability to be connected to emails, their calendars,” he said.

DCF is currently serving more children than it has at any time in the last 20 years.

The agency has hired 200 new employees since the start of the year, but case workers are still juggling a lot of families. The average load for one case worker is 19.8 families. The goal is to bring that number down to 15 by hiring even more people.

Erin Deveney, the department’s interim commissioner, is embracing the report’s findings.

“These recommendations will allow us to create greater consistency in our policy and practices and to develop additional tools to help keep children safe and families strong,” Deveney said.

The report also suggests changes for social worker licensing.

The report finds these changes will require a lot more money, more than the $9.2 million recommended by Gov. Deval Patrick’s FY2015 budget.

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  • Lawrence

    Not responsible? Then what is their function, if not to recognize vulnerable children, then remove them from homes where they are in danger?

    Had they done their job, this innocent child would still be living. And hundreds more would not still be raped, beaten and battered each day.

    And the Patrick administration is at fault for cutting funding while sneaking millions to his campaign contributors. ( $235 million for the Assembly Sq. mall alone! )

    • gotham77

      If only the experts who carried out a thorough investigation knew as much as you do, right?

      So make up your mind, is the agency underfunded or are they just not doing their jobs?

      • Lawrence

        Blame is to found in a multitude of places.

        The “experts” concluded that the agency failed to protect the boy. If the agency did its job of protecting the boy, he would obviously be alive. Seems pretty common sense to me.

        First it was the Patrick administration for staling money away from such an important agency for such a corrupt reason.

        Secondly, even with the underfunding, someone should have done their job when they should have made the home visits. Where was the observation? Awareness? Investigation? They failed to protect the boy, as the article states.

        • gotham77

          Why’d you put “experts” in quotes? Do you doubt their credentials? Or do they only count as experts if they tell you what you want to hear?

          • Lawrence

            Experts they maybe, but does that really guarantee they are not being political? They had to play it very cautiously.

            On one hand they had to appease the public outcry and on the other they had to stop short of saying that the faulty and incompetent actions did not cause the murder of boy.

            So, yes, they may be experts but did they really provide expert opinion?

          • gotham77

            You’re making things up. The whole point of hiring an independent agency from outside the state to conduct the investigation is to avoid the reasons you’ve invented to dismiss the results.

  • Lawrence

    Yes. something I have been saying for years.

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