BOSTON, JAN. 24, 2014 (State House News Service) – House Speaker Robert DeLeo is “angry” and “appalled” after learning on Thursday that roughly 20 percent of workers’ required monthly home visits in child protection cases are either not completed or recorded.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche told a House panel Thursday that the department’s 82.5 percent compliance rate with required monthly home visits could be attributable to delays in record-keeping, a visit held outside the home, an emergency or an inability to “keep up” with adolescents. The compliance rate was disclosed Thursday in an Office of the Child Advocate report.
Multiple investigations into DCF have been launched following the December revelation that 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, a Fitchburg boy whom the agency had been tasked with watching over, hadn’t been seen for months and was feared dead.
A social worker, supervisor and area manager were fired for failing to visit the family. The union said the Leominster office was over-burdened with cases.
“What I heard yesterday, I’m probably a little more appalled than I was before,” DeLeo told reporters Friday. “This started with a young boy who hadn’t been seen for some four or five months in terms of being watched over by DCF. We have no idea if that child is alive – we pray he is – or dead. Okay? And as a result of that, it was felt at that time that was maybe an isolated incident. Now I hear and read where there was some 20 percent of home visits that have been skipped. That to me shows a little bit more of a problem in terms of what’s going on at DCF as opposed to just an isolated incident.”
DCF intervenes to varying levels in cases of abuse or neglect against children. In her testimony, Roche said the agency works to protect more than 100,000 children and youth and works to strengthen families.
DeLeo said visiting children under the department’s care is the “basic responsibility” of DCF social workers and said he’s “a lot angry” to hear that 20 percent of the home visits were not undertaken.
Asked if he thinks Roche should go, DeLeo said, “I’m not ready to say that just yet. I think we ought to give her the opportunity to let the process play out, to have all the hearings.”
Gov. Deval Patrick proposed increasing DCF’s budget by $9.2 million in his annual spending plan on Wednesday, and Rep. David Linsky, chairman of the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, said Thursday “we’re going to do whatever we need to do” to fix problems at the agency.
In its prepared testimony for Thursday, SEIU Local 509 officials Chris Condon and Peter MacKinnon said national guidelines “clearly state” no more than 15 cases “can be safely handled by a single social worker.” They said more than 1,400 social workers have more than 15 cases and nearly 850 have more than 18 cases. The testimony said there are 2,800 front-line social workers, investigators and support staff at DCF and said more than half the frontline workforce has “unsafe and unmanageable caseloads.”
“The past two or three budget cycles we’ve increased their budgets,” said DeLeo. “Last year there was a request that they get some money, some $5 million, so they could change their ratio of case-to-social-worker to 18-to-1. We gave them that money.”
DeLeo said, “If money is part of the issue, then I’ll be glad to talk about that… But obviously in addition to that we have 20 percent home visits that aren’t being done.”
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute attorney Susan Elsen said DCF’s funding has been cut over the years, and is far from its prior levels of funding.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service