NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 24, 2014

Lawmakers, DCF officials discuss operations at troubled agency

BOSTON — For more than four hours yesterday, members of a House panel sought answers about why the state lost track of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, and assurances from the Department of Children and Families that such failures will not occur again.

A DCF social worker, supervisor and an area manager were fired late last year after the Fitchburg boy’s sister went to school officials and authorities learned he had not been seen since September and the assigned caseworker had not checked in on him since May.

“I am struck by the fact that somehow this little boy didn’t slip through the cracks at one level. [He] slipped through the cracks on three separate levels,” House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight Chairman David Linsky told DCF Commissioner Olga Roche during a joint panel with the House members of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.

Roche said the governor’s budget recommendation of a $9.2 million increase would allow for staffing increases, meaning one social worker would have no more than 15 cases at a time, and technology improvements to allow for more up-to-the-minute reports.

“We’re going to do whatever we need to do with the Legislature. But you can pour in millions of dollars and if there is a total breakdown in the supervision and the work in an area office — like apparently there was in Fitchburg at this time — no amount of money is going to help until there is a directive coming from the secretary or the commissioner or maybe the governor that people just have to do their jobs and that kids’ lives are at stake,” Linsky said.

“There’s zero tolerance for [them] not doing their job,” Roche said. Asked whether there had been a zero tolerance before, Roche said, “There is a zero tolerance for a worker not to fulfill their duties. There is a zero tolerance for a supervisor not to fulfill their duties, and also zero tolerance for a manager not to follow their direct responsibility of oversight of cases. There was always a zero tolerance and will continue to be a zero tolerance because our children matter.”

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