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ITeam: Social Worker Says DCF Case Loads At Concerning Levels

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent
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BOSTON (CBS) – For the first time, a veteran state social worker is talking publicly about caseloads of some Department of Children and Family workers, saying in some communities they are so overloaded that children are in danger.

Top state officials have been insisting caseloads at the Department of Children and Families had nothing to do with the disappearance of the five-year-boy in Fitchburg. But documents reviewed by the I-Team may suggest otherwise.

Peter MacKinnon, a front line social worker who has watched over the states most vulnerable children for 15 years, and is also a ranking union member in Local 509, suggests the overload may have contributed to the Jeremiah Oliver tragedy in Fitchburg.

“Caseloads are bad, and what we have seen since this story broke is that they are going up even more now,” he told the I-Team. “We have asked for more staff to bring caseloads down to try to avoid tragedies like this.”

MacKinnon is the first Department of Children and Families social worker to talk since 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg disappeared September 14. Oliver is feared dead.

His mother Elsa Oliver has been criminally charged for failing to stop alleged abuse by her boyfriend, Albert Sierra.

Sierra has been charged with brutally beating the child. The social worker handling Oliver’s case has been fired, along with two supervisors.

On Thursday, Governor Patrick suggested the tragedy had nothing to do with high case loads.

“I think that the question of staffing at DCF is separate from the Oliver case,” he said.

However, documents reviewed by the I-Team show the fired social worker, who has not been identified, was handling 20 families at the time.

The state has claimed that number was 16. The national standard for a safe case load is 15.

Further, that social worker had complained to DCF for six months that she felt her case load was too high.

At the north central office where she worked, caseloads have increased by 12 percent in the past 14 months.

Some social workers are carrying more than 24 cases, and one has 38.

There are 90 social workers employed at the office that’s at the center of the Oliver case. In December, 60 of those workers complained to the state that their case loads were too high.

“When you have caseloads that high, in the twenties or going towards 30, they are potentially in danger because they could be missed,” MacKinnon said. “In offices where caseloads are high; am I worried? Yes, I am.”

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