BOSTON (AP) — Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker called Monday for the resignation of the head of the Department of Children and Families, citing the need for a top-to-bottom review of the state’s embattled child welfare agency.
The department has been under scrutiny since social workers lost track of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old boy from Fitchburg who is missing and feared dead. Three DCF employees — a social worker, a supervisor and area manager — were later fired after an internal investigation found the social worker had not made regular visits to the boy’s family.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Baker said the administration of Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick was taking a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to the crisis. Baker said department Commissioner Olga Roche should leave her job.
“The commissioner should step down and we should find someone who can go into that job and put fresh eyes on it and do the kind of top-to-bottom review, do the kind of basic work around protecting and keeping kids safe,” said Baker, who lost to Patrick in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Patrick is not seeking re-election.
Patrick has called for an independent review of DCF by the Children’s Welfare League of America, but he and top administration officials have consistently stood by Roche’s leadership of the agency. Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz, who appointed Roche to the post, said last week that no one was more committed to keeping children safe.
Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, served as Health and Human Services Secretary under Republican Gov. William Weld in the 1990s. He called last month for the release of region-by-region data on social worker caseload and abuse reports but stopped short at the time of calling for Roche to resign.
“I’m not a big believer in shoot first and ask questions later,” he said Monday.
Baker also said Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, should stop fighting a 2010 lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights, a New York-based child advocacy group that accused the state of violating the constitutional rights for thousands of children in the state’s foster care system by placing them in unstable and sometimes dangerous situations.
A federal judge ruled last fall in favor of the state, but Children’s Rights is appealing.
Baker said Coakley should advise the Patrick administration to settle the lawsuit and instead fix the problems.
The attorney general has proposed creating a separate child protection division within DCF to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect with a sole focus on the safety of the children involved.
The Boston Globe, citing 2012 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported Monday that
Massachusetts ranked 38 out of 50 in the percent of foster children visited each month by caseworkers.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.
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