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An internal investigation prompted by the death of a 2-year-old foster child and the near-death of another found that the Department of Children and Families failed to follow its own policies in licensing the foster home where the children lived.
The report, released Thursday, found that the licensing process "was deficient and demonstrates an absence of supervisory oversight of critical steps required under DCF policy."
Six children — three of which were foster children — were living in Kimberly Malpass' home when, in August, the report says 2-year-old Ava and 22-month-old Samara appeared to have suffered from heat stroke. Ava died, and Samara, who was in critical condition, is now stable and in a long-term rehabilitation hospital.
A physician with UMass' Child Protection Unit is quoted in the DCF report as saying that bruising found on the two girls "may have resulted from child struggling against car seat restraints, though pattern of injury is not definitive."
"It is my medical opinion that this represents child neglect," the physician's report went on to say.
The third foster child living in the home has since been placed in another home, and Malpass' three children are now living with relatives.
The report raised a number of issues and pointed to several missed steps during the licensing and supervision of the foster home. They include:
- Physical and safety standards of the home were not properly assessed, and there was not enough space to accommodate the children who were placed there.
- Malpass' own children were not interviewed during the licensing process, even they were all old enough (between 7 and 13 years old) to participate.
- A DCF worker never followed up with concerns raised by a physician that worked with Malpass' family, who reported that Malpass was overwhelmed by managing her own children's care.
- Earlier reports of abuse and neglect, so-called 51A reports, filed in 2008 and 2012, were not properly considered during the foster home licensing process.
- Malpass told DCF workers she was disabled and had Lupus, but this was not used to assess whether Malpass was able to care for several young children.
- Only three of six visits required during the first six months of a foster home's licensing were conducted.
- There was no increased oversight of the home after a March 2015 51A report was filed alleging that Malpass was allowing her boyfriend, Anthony Mallet, to stay in the home and that he had "concerning criminal charges." (After Ava's death, Mallet told investigators he had been living in the home for more than a year and that Malpass and her children had lied to DCF.)
- Several forms related to the licensing process and the placement of children in the home were never completed.
- At times four foster children were living in the home, despite the home being licensed for three foster children. Malpass was also at times caring for more young children than allowed by DCF policy.
"The failures that are outlined by this report are unacceptable," Gov. Charlie Baker said during a press conference Thursday. "The failures outlined must and will be promptly corrected to ensure the safety of other children in the care of the department."
At least some of those failures are being attributed to specific social workers. Officials said Thursday that two staff members involved with the foster home, one social worker and one supervisor, were reassigned pending a hearing to determine appropriate disciplinary action.
Still, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said during the press conference that most social workers "are coming to work every day to do right by kids and to keep kids safe."
"We have tried to separate what are blatant, systemic issues in the department and to fix them for long sustainable change in the department." Sudders said. "And then we're also going to be honest when we believe there has been deficient work by a particular worker and/or their supervisor."
The report says workers will be retrained on foster home licensing standards with a focus on physical standards in homes, interviews with every household member and the assessment of medical and behavioral health histories for caregivers. New policy will also and require contact with local police departments to obtain information about potential foster homes. (This was not required when Malpass' home was licensed, though it was later discovered there had been at least 25 police response to the home between July 2008 and December 2013 — before she was licensed to care for foster children.)
The Department of Children and Families has been plagued by a string of high-profile incidents involving children that were at some point under the department's supervision.
A report released last month found that DCF had failed to provide adequate oversight of a 7-year-old Hardwick boy who was allegedly beaten and starved by his father. DCF had been actively engaged with the family for months before the boy was hospitalized.
In that report, officials found specifically that the department had failed to pull together several reports of abuse or neglect that it received in the six months before the boy was hospitalized. He remains in a coma in a long-term rehabilitation center.
Baker noted during Thursday's press conference that with the Hardwick case, some policies were not in place to ensure the boy's safety, while with the Auburn case, workers failed to follow policies.
"In this case, the reports made clear that there were many instances of blatant lack of oversight by DCF staff," Baker said. "Understanding that caseloads are still too high, and staff is forced to operate under difficult circumstances, the failure to recognize and report certain issues with this foster home and parent is unacceptable."
Earlier this week Baker outlined a series of reforms for the embattled agency, including updating a more than 10-year-old intake policy, implementing a new supervisor policy and reopening the central Massachusetts DCF office, which was closed after 2009 budget cuts.
Baker told reporters Thursday that he wants to succeed where prior administrations have failed.
"We want to be the folks who actually stick with this all the way through and get it right," Baker said. "And that will take a little longer than the quick fix."
A statement from SEIU Local 509, the union that represents the state's social workers, said its workers "believe in accountability."
"Whether systemic challenges or individual action, any factor that plays a role in a tragedy must be fully investigated and addressed accordingly," the statement said. "This case is no different, and we will continue to work with law enforcement and the Administration to ensure appropriate action is taken."
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- Lawmaker Who Led Last DCF Investigation Says Agency Needs More Money
- Baker Says Investigation Into Death Of Auburn Foster Child Is ‘All Hands On Deck’
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