More criminal checks and other reforms coming to DCF

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Baker announces sweeping changes to DCF.

Governor Charlie Baker and Department of Children and Families officials on Monday announced system-wide reforms to the agency’s policies, with efforts to support the social workers on the front lines and protect the state’s children. Baker met with Peter MacKinnon, the president of the union representing the department’s social workers, at the State House Monday morning to discuss policy and procedural changes. The agency has been under intense scrutiny following high-profile cases where children under DCF care were harmed or died, and after a report from the Office of the Child Advocate that found 184 children were abused or neglected while in the agency’s care last year. Charlie Baker on Monday said the embattled agency is implementing new policies that will attempt to reduce caseloads and help retain and recruit social workers. Our administration looks forward to working with House Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Rosenberg and the legislature on this important work moving forward.” The reforms include the first new intake and supervisor policies in about 10 years, and come after several tragedies involving the death of foster children under the oversight of DCF.

Further reforms are expected from the agency’s management and union leadership in order to accelerate the priorities outlined in the Child Welfare League of America report from last May 2014. They will be charged with handling nonclinical support services, restoring positions that were eliminated due to budget reductions in 2009, according to the administration. I was shocked at how long its been since a number of these critical components have been updated.” Chief among the new reforms is an effort to limit the caseload of social workers to 18-1. CBS Boston reports: “The work that will be done from this point forward will focus on one major objective: To keep kids safe,” Baker said. “We need to get it right.” In addition to the reforms, Baker also announced that an independent review of the Bella Bond case would also take place.

This report is the “blueprint” for change within the agency, according to Baker’s office, and includes recommendations like background checks for foster homes, photo-documentation for all cases, and new guidance for home visits. “For years, social workers and investigators have called for meaningful reform and investment at DCF, but we’ve only seen attempts at quick fixes,” MacKinnon said in a statement. “This is an unprecedented collaboration between frontline child protection workers and agency administrators. Baker has vowed to review the DCF’s involvement with Bella Bond, the tiny Dorchester girl who was initially known only as “Baby Doe’’ after her body was found in a plastic bag on Deer Island in Winthrop in June. Currently, state social workers are handling as many as 27 cases at a time, making it difficult to focus on individual cases and creating an atmosphere in which important details are missed. Working together, we will succeed in doing what has been necessary for so long–making deep, systemic changes.” The agency’s intake policy, covering when a report of abuse or neglect is filed through to the investigation and opening of a case, hasn’t been updated in 12 years. Other high-profile cases include an Auburn toddler who died in the care of her DCF-appointed foster mother, and a 7-year-old boy under agency care who fell into a coma shortly after a caseworker visit.

The state’s official Child Advocate wrote in report earlier this month that DCF caseworkers are set up “to fail.” Poor management and too many cases per worker harmed the department’s abilities and quality of work, the report said. A new supervision policy to include mandated steps on case review to supervise workers for all families. “There is no clarity for social workers in the field to determine when cases should be pushed up” for further review and investigation. To ease the stress of high caseloads, the department will continue to hire new social workers with the $35.5 million increase provided in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

Previous budget reductions forced the agency’s central regional office to close, meaning the western office took on more than 50 percent of the state’s caseload. DCF will also augment efforts to increase the number of safe foster homes and families available to children by reducing the applicant backlog safely and efficiently. And in July, a 7-year-old Hardwick boy who was being monitored by the department was taken from his home in a coma after he was allegedly starved and beaten by his father, Randall Lints. The office will be staffed with managerial, administrative, legal, nursing and other employees to increase workers’ access to supervision and other support resources.

Michael McCarthy has been charged with murder, and Rachelle Bond has been charged with accessory after the fact for allegedly helping dispose of Bella’s body and cover up the crime. DCF directors will use a nationally developed child welfare continuous quality improvement (CQI) tool to assess several facets of cases including: safety, stability, placement needs, permanency, wellbeing, engagement of service providers, understanding of case situation and context. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos and subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics at bostonglobe.com/politicalhappyhourDavid Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. With the governor’s personal pledge, we will finally bring caseloads down to safe, manageable levels.” “One of the troubling elements for us is there are a lot of people who had concerns about what was going on, and for whatever reason didn’t bother to raise the issue to create the opportunity for DCF to go in,” Baker said. “If people are concerned about the situation kids are in, they need to tell us so we can go out and investigate.”

New Specialist Positions include medical social workers statewide, Central Regional Director, Ombudsperson, Assistant Commissioner for Adoption and Foster Care, and Director of Strategic Initiatives.

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