BOSTON (AP) — The heavy caseload at a regional office of the state Department of Children and Families does not excuse the failure to properly monitor a 5-year-old boy who has not been seen in months and is feared dead, according to a report issued Thursday by the state Office of the Child Advocate.
The workload provided a context but not an explanation or excuse for failures in basic protective care and supervision in the case of Jeremiah Oliver, of Fitchburg, and his family, said Child Advocate Gail Garinger.
The report was issued as two legislative committees held a Statehouse hearing prompted by the boy’s disappearance.
“The department lost track of a kid,” said state Rep. David Linsky, chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee. “That’s absolutely inexcusable.”
Linsky asked DCF Commissioner Olga Roche, who testified for more than three hours before lawmakers, if she was 100 percent confident that no other children in the system were currently unaccounted for.
Roche replied that she was, noting the department fired the social worker assigned to the Oliver family for failing to make required monthly visits to the family, and also terminated the social worker’s supervisor and an area manager. Roche also said the agency immediately made visits to all other children assigned to the social worker to assure they were safe, and ordered checks on all children 5 years of age or younger whose families were under DCF supervision.
“This was a unique circumstance of a social worker, a supervisor and a manager who failed to do their duties,” Roche said, adding that the agency serves more than 100,000 children a year and most do well because of the dedication and commitment of social workers.
Linsky, a Natick Democrat, agreed, but added:
“In this type of situation we can’t afford to get it right 99.9 percent of the time. We have to get it right 100 percent of the time.”
The department has been working since 1986 under a maximum caseload ratio of 18 families, and no more than 30 children, per social worker, officials said. The ratio is weighted to give a higher value to more difficult cases.
A $9.2 million increase in funding for the agency requested Wednesday by Gov. Deval Patrick would help lower the caseload ratio to 15-to-1, with a maximum of 28 children, Roche said, in keeping with an agreement reached last year with a union representing social workers.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Doug Cope reports