An independent nonpartisan group tasked with reviewing the state's troubled child welfare system is advising the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to improve its supervision of staff, and to redistribute cases to help ease the burden on social workers juggling hefty workloads.
In a preliminary report released Thursday, the Child Welfare League of America also highlighted the need to improve technology so case workers can document visits in real time and complete forms in the field.
The current software system — the Massachusetts Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System — does not allow for real-time access from handheld devices. Some DCF workers have expressed frustration that the present technology is clunky and slows down their work, making it difficult to visit all their families and input data promptly.
The report also suggests that the DCF more closely monitor children who have been placed in homes approved through a waiver process.
The "progress update" does not provide many concrete solutions, and it offers no specific recommendations regarding the case of the 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who was under DCF supervision when he went missing. Jeremiah Oliver was last seen in September and is now feared dead. The boy's case sparked outrage among lawmakers and led to this review.
A spokesperson for the union that represents state social workers said the initial report reinforces the "real and immediate need to address the systemic challenges front-line social workers have raised for many years."
“Governor Patrick and the legislature have already taken important first steps to address issues identified in the League’s interim report, yet significant challenges persist at the Department of Children & Families," Jason Stephany said in a statement. "We sincerely hope the Commissioner takes these recommendations seriously – and acts immediately to remove remaining impediments to the Department’s vital child protection mission.”
The CWLA says it intends to include recommendations relative to the Oliver case and specific advice for systemic policy problems in its final report, which is expected to be released in May.