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A new report from the Office of the Child Advocate says while "considerable effort" has been made to reform the Department of Children and Families in the last year, there's more work to be done.
The agency is struggling as a result of several years of budget cuts, the report said, and its problems were compounded by the recent loss of nearly 100 workers who took advantage ofGov. Charlie Baker's early retirement incentive.
"The Department’s infrastructure has been so weakened over many years that it was unable to provide the case oversight and quality control required to ensure good clinical decisions, and to evaluate operations to update policies," the report said.
DCF has been under intense scrutiny in recent months, following several tragic cases involving children who were at one point under agency supervision.
Several reports and case reviews have been issued in the wake of those cases, and reforms are already being made at the agency, including the recent announcement of new intake and supervision policies.
Friday's report, however, pointed to more work that needs to be done. It said the three most critical needs at DCF are to:
(1) establish a supervisory and management structure; (2) hire sufficient social work staff to achieve the caseload standard of a weighted caseload of 18 families for each caseworker; and (3) institutionalize a robust quality assurance and data analysis program
The report also said DCF needed to be better funded long term, not just during crises, in order to fulfill its mission.
"[Support] must be sustained over decades or the same situations will continue to arise again and again and children will be harmed," the report said.
In turn, the report said the agency needs to better demonstrate accountability, by creating timelines for the implementation of reforms and creating transparent records of how its funding is used.
"The public deserves information about whether its child welfare system is achieving the desired child and family outcomes," the report said. "The Executive Branch and Legislature must receive reports that hold DCF accountable both programmatically and fiscally."
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