A legislator who led an inquiry into the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families last year says the state will likely have to increase funding to the agency again to help it get on track.
"I think that we're going to have to pump in more money, unfortunately," Rep. David Linsky, of Natick, told WBUR's All Things Considered. "But we need to make sure that [DCF caseworkers] are trained. We need to make sure that they're adequately supervised, to make sure ... that somebody is, with more experienced eyes, taking a look at the most difficult cases."
Linsky's comments come as DCF is again in the spotlight over two incidents involving children under the agency's supervision.
In the most recent, a 2-year-old girl died and 22-month-old girl was found in critical condition in an Auburn foster home. Authorities haven’t determined what went wrong with the children.
And earlier this summer, a 7-year-old Hardwick boy with whom the DCF had been "actively engaged" was hospitalized after he was allegedly beaten and starved by his father, who had recently gained custody of him. He remains in a coma.
According to Linsky, the state added $48 million to the DCF's budget in the fiscal year that began in July 2014, and another $37 million for the fiscal year that began this July, putting the department's entire budget at just under $900 million.
Linsky chairs the House committee that held hearings and issued a report on the DCF last year after it lost track of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who was eventually found dead. That report called DCF an "agency in crisis."
Linsky says he doesn't know if he would still characterize DCF as "in crisis." He says it has made great progress, including in purchasing new technology such as mobile tablets that help social workers and supervisors track their cases and home visits.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders revealed Monday that although DCF has hired many new social workers, caseloads remain at about 20 families per social worker due to an increase in the overall number of cases the DCF is handling. A report from the Child Welfare League of America commissioned last year by former Gov. Deval Patrick recommended caseloads be reduced to 15 per social worker.
In the Auburn case, state leaders now say there were dozens of 911 calls at the home in recent years, and the foster mother was dating a man who didn't go through any DCF screening because he wasn't listed as living at the home. It still isn't clear if he spent time with the children.
Linsky says no matter the outcome of the investigation, DCF may need to intensify its screening process for prospective foster parents — including following up to learn about new people spending time at the home, and checking with local police on reports surrounding the people or home in question. Such inquiries may reveal information a standard background check would not.
DCF has regulations pertaining to what it calls "frequent visitors to the house," according to Linsky. "But that's a very difficult area to enforce. And that's going to have to, at least now, rely on the truthfulness of the people supplying that information.
"There needs to be something in place to make sure that, number one, DCF has discretion to say yes or no to a prospective foster family," Linsky added.
You can hear our entire conversation with Rep. Linsky at the top of this page.