Our Opinion: Rebuilding DCF
The conclusion by the Child Welfare League of America that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families should not be held responsible for the death of a 5-year-old boy under the agency's supervision contradicts the League's own findings into the disappearance and death of Jeremiah Oliver. That aside, the report released Wednesday does buttress the argument that the DCF needs help that should be reflected in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
A harrowing story on the short life of the Fitchburg boy in last Sunday's Boston Globe chronicled the failings of his parents, and the boy's mother and her boyfriend have been charged with kidnapping and assault, to which they have pleaded not guilty. However, the boy went missing last September and police were not notified until December. Three DCF employees were fired and a fourth disciplined after a state investigation revealed that social workers missed visits and did not adequately engage with the family. Jeremiah's body was found along a highway in April.
The Oliver case, however, is just one of several DCF failures that have come to light in recent months, including the deaths of two other children, which led to the resignation of Commissioner Olga Roche. The League's report said that DCF was understaffed and is serving more children now than at any other time in the past 20 years, creating a caseload that outstrips the capacity of the agency.
Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz said the Patrick administration has added social workers to create a ratio of just under 20 cases per worker, with a goal of reducing it to 15 cases per worker. In response to the League's recommendations that smartphones be given to field workers to improve the handling of cases across regional offices, Mr. Polanowicz said the state is providing 2,000 tablets to enable workers to also check email and online information.
Governor Patrick has requested $9.2 million in his budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to hire more DCF workers and improve outdated agency technology, and the House and Senate budgets that must be reconciled each contain higher figures. Regardless of the status of the economy, monitoring and assuring child welfare cannot be done on the cheap. The state owes that to the many children whose dire family situations leave their fates in the hands of government.