An independent review of the Massachusetts child welfare agency is under way. Governor Deval Patrick spoke publicly today about the investigation.
Governor Patrick held a news conference at the Statehouse shortly after meeting with officials from the Child Welfare League of America, whom the governor has given broad authority to look into the policies and practices of the Department of Children and Families.
"We need actionable recommendations. The point is not more paperwork, but more social work."
Patrick said there would be periodic progress reports made public with the first one expected in about a month. He said he wants the final report issued in the spring to give the legislature time to act on any needed reforms before the end of the legislative session in July.
DCF has been under scrutiny since December when it was discovered the agency had mishandled the case of 5- year- old Jeremiah Oliver who had been missing since September and is now feared dead. The Fitchburg boy’s mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to child abuse charges. Searches have turned up no sign of the missing boy, and the Worcester District Attorney has said he fears the boy was killed.
" I think we have a great opportunity, presented ironically, by this terrible tragedy to rethink and reinvigorate the department and I want to assure the public that is what we intend to do," said Patrick.
Patrick continued to defend DCF Commissioner Olga Roche whom he noted had fired three people – the case worker who failed to make visits to the Oliver home and two supervisors.
The governor said the DCF regional offices will undergo some realignment to more evenly distribute the caseloads, and he has directed the state’s IT office to come up with a way give DCF staff in the field access to real-time reports.
Republican State Senator Don Humason of Westfield said an independent investigation of DCF is the right thing to do.
" It has become too difficult for the agency to police itself."
A legislative oversight committee spent four hours last week questioning the DCF commissioner.
Governor Patrick has proposed a five percent increase for DCF in the next state budget to hire more social workers to reduce caseloads.