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Gov. Charlie Baker delivered a forceful rebuke Monday of Auditor Suzanne Bump's review of the Department of Children and Families released last week, calling the claims in the audit "irresponsible," and in some cases "simply not true" in a letter to DCF staff.
Baker wrote a nearly two-page letter to the staff thanking them for their work and applauding their efforts over the past two years to improve the agency. But he also outlined his problems with Bump's focus and messaging.
"I appreciate that the Auditor also cares about ensuring these children are safe. But for this report to ignore nearly everything you have done for the past two and a half years to improve the agency's ability to do its work strikes me as wrong," Baker wrote.
Bump, a Democrat, released an audit stating that between 2014 and 2015 the child welfare agency was unaware of 260 incidents of serious bodily injury to children in its care. It further asserted that 118 incidents of sexual abuse of a child in DCF care were not reported to the Office of the Child Advocate and 19 incidents of abuse and neglect that were not reported to district attorneys.
Baker told the DCF social workers he was "dismayed" that Bump's audit stopped in 2015 and did not take into account reforms that his administration has put in place. "At a minimum, it would be fair to say that the DCF of 2017/2018 is nothing like the DCF of 2014/2015. Nothing," he said.
He also criticized Bump for not including any observations from social workers who interact with families every day, and denied the assertion in the audit that DCF employees do not report all incidents of assault to law enforcement.
"This is simply not true. The incidents from 2014 and 2015 that she alleges were left unreported were, in fact, referred to law enforcement. All of them," he wrote. "Stating that 'victimization of children in DCF's care continues to occur unnoticed by the agency' when the data set the Auditor uses are two and three years old is not just unfortunate and inaccurate — it's irresponsible."
Leaning on his background as a health and human services secretary and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker said he was skeptical of Bump's decision to review Medicaid claims data and her recommendations that DCF should rely more heavily on those forms as an "effective tool" for identifying abuse.
The governor said "maybe" it could be a secondary tool, but he said those records are used for billing, not clinical diagnoses, and can be three to six months old.
Bump issued a statement Monday in response to Baker's letter, saying that though Baker "has cited progress that the agency has made in several areas," her audit identifies other problems.
"Governor Baker has issued a political statement and I respect his ability to do that," she wrote in the statement. "The public, however, should consider not the Governor’s statement, but DCF’s own acknowledgement that the circumstances that gave rise to the audit findings have not changed. The Governor is denying a reality that DCF itself does not dispute."
Last week, Bump also addressed concerns expressed by the administration.
"I can't frankly understand how it is that they can justify their willing ignorance of this information by saying that it might not be very current information," she said. "Whether the information that's contained in those medical reports is two hours old or two days old or two weeks old, that is information that DCF has to obtain in order to ensure that they are properly caring for the children in their custody."
In her statement Monday, Bump said the data show there's not been a reduction in "critical incidents" of child abuse, but the number of reports to the Office of the Child Advocate have decreased.
With additional reporting from the WBUR Newsroom
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