BOSTON (State House News Service) – An outside group’s full report on the struggling Department of Children and Families won’t be released until May but a progress report released Thursday identifies areas where actions can be taken immediately, including staffing and technology changes aimed at safeguarding children.
The Child Welfare League of America recommended addressing caseloads across the department and staffing needs at its North Central Area office, where 15 additional workers have already been added. Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget proposal, which will likely be approved in a redrafted form this summer, includes funding for another 177 positions to meet a 15-to-1 caseload goal agreed upon with the social workers’ union. DCF has hired 90 social workers since the beginning of 2014. The CWLA said there are “few examples of other states or counties with social workers using mobile technology,” but recommended “studying real-time case file access from handheld devices and the ability for social workers to make emergency calls, which DCF is working to implement.”
Administration officials have plans for mobile devices for social workers to provide real time updates on client visits, with the first 60 mobile tablets to be distributed to on-call supervisors in the coming weeks for testing on a pilot basis. The CWLA also recommended changes in the areas of background checks for foster and kinship families to address “the entire home,” taking photos of all children who enter custody so they can be shared with law enforcement if a child runs away, and adoption of a national group’s standards to ensure prompt medical checks of children.
“So many of the issues we have come down to – and I think the Child Welfare League is telling us this in their progress report so far – come down to having enough people, enough professionals to do the assignment that they have and the timeliness of the information to do that assignment and those are things we are working on,” Gov. Patrick said in a radio interview Thursday. Issues impacting children and families served by the department will be discussed during a closed-press meeting among advocates and care providers Friday at the Home for Little Wanderers on Huntington Avenue in Boston, with a media availability following at noon with DCF Commissioner Olga Roche.