NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 24, 2014

Lawmakers, DCF officials discuss operations at troubled agency

(Continued)

Jason Stephany, a spokesman for SEIU Local 509, which represented the fired social worker, said the union believes in “accountability,” and said many of the social workers in the Leominster office were overburdened and had filed grievances.

“The social worker in question had raised red flags,” Stephany told the News Service. He said, “It’s clear that it went unnoticed.”

Asked if he believes the firing was justified, Stephany said the union is looking for more details. Stephany said the contract requires social workers to have no more than 18 cases, and said in 2013 the state agreed to bring caseloads down to 15 — which is the target of Patrick’s budget.

Many caseworkers continue to have caseloads over 18, according to a chart supplied by SEIU, which shows top caseloads in the 20s and even as high as 40 in the south central office. Stephany said one case typically has multiple children, parents, lawyers and other individuals associated with it.

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute attorney Susan Elsen said DCF’s funding was $934.7 million in fiscal year 2009, and Patrick’s proposed increase would bring the funding up to $819 million, while level-funding the family-support line item. Those funding cuts occurred through the so-called 9C funding cuts made unilaterally by the governor and through the budgetary process, Elsen said.

Elsen also told the News Service there is a “sub story” where social workers might be opting in favor of removing children from their homes at a greater rate now, saying a Worcester office had seen 30 care protection cases filed in one week, up from the average of 4 to 6 cases weekly. She said the majority of cases are neglect, not abuse, where family strengthening is helpful.

Roche said that the Oliver family had gone through an investigatory process, which is reserved for the more serious cases. The case was transferred from one area to the Fitchburg office.

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