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The report also highlights ongoing problems within the agency, particularly heavy caseloads and outdated technology.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