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Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday outlined a series of reforms for the Department of Children and Families in the wake of several tragic cases involving youths who had some interaction with the embattled agency.
The reforms include changing the DCF intake process following an allegation of child abuse or neglect, and reopening an agency office and reinstating DCF positions that were cut in 2009 state budget reductions.
"The work that will be done from this point forward will focus on one major objective: to keep kids safe," Baker said in a news conference.
The new intake process, after a so-called 51a report is filed with the state, will include: standardized risk assessment tools for social workers; criminal background checks in all DCF cases, up from about 70 percent of cases now; a review of a family's prior involvement with DCF and any 911 responses to the home; and an assessment of parental capacity.
In a statement, the Baker administration said this new process, which will be updated by Nov. 17, is the first change to the intake process in 12 years.
Other DCF reforms include:
-- a new supervisor policy, to be instituted by Nov. 17, with mandated steps for case review;
-- reopening the central Massachusetts regional DCF office, which was shuttered following budget cuts, by Jan. 1, 2016;
-- and the reinstatement of social work technician positions.
As Marylou Sudders, health and human services secretary, said in the statement: “[Before the positions were cut in 2009,] [s]ocial work technicians were an important resource providing non-clinical support such as a child’s transportation to and from appointments. Reinstating this position will allow licensed social workers to focus more on case management and the children under their supervision.”
The Republican Baker, who was joined at the press conference by the president of the DCF social workers union, said he seeks a reduction in caseloads for social workers — a longstanding union goal.
As of July, the average caseload was 20.66 per social worker, the administration said; the department wants to get that down to 18:1.
The administration, in its statement, said DCF "continues to hire new social workers with the $35.5 million increase provided in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget."
Baker also announced that the independent Office of the Child Advocate will review the case of 2-year-old Bella Bond, who was found dead on Deer Island in June. The girl's identity was not learned until Sept. 19. Her mother and the mother's boyfriend have been charged in the death.
Additionally, Baker said that DCF will release next week an internal review into the case of a 2-year-old who died in mid-August while in foster care in Auburn.
Other cases have also put DCF under the spotlight recently, including allegations of neglect and physical abuse against the father of a 7-year-old boy from Hardwick. The boy remains in a long-term care rehabilitation facility, while the father, Randall Lints, is held on bail.
On Monday, Lints' girlfriend, Alexandra Chadwick, pleaded not guilty to charges that she also abused the boy. She was held on $200,000 bail.
The administration statement said the "2014 [Child Welfare League of America] report is the blueprint for [new changes] within the agency."
The report's author, Linda Spears, is now DCF commissioner, after being tapped by Baker.
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