By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Two dozen state lawmakers have sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick seeking the resignation of the head of the state child welfare agency over concerns the department is failing to protect children in its care.

The letter written by Republican state Reps. Ryan Fattman of Webster and Leah Cole of Peabody cited what they called a mishandling of cases by the Department of Children and Families. Eight Democrats signed Thursday’s letter asking for the resignation of Commissioner Olga Roche.

The agency has been under scrutiny since social workers lost track of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who has not been seen by relatives since September and is feared dead. His mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the case.

“Both Democrats and Republicans agree that Commissioner Roche has not offered a comprehensive solution to solving the epic failures of the Department of Children and Families, and it is time for some leadership that will make protecting children its number one priority,” Fattman said in a statement.

Patrick has strongly defended Roche in the past and did so again on Friday in a broadcast interview, saying that Roche has decades of experience with and knowledge of child welfare issues, far more than those who have publicly called for her resignation.

“I understand that one sort of political pattern is that something goes wrong, the governor gets embarrassed, there’s a lot of attention in the media and the public calls for a scalp, Patrick told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller. “What I owe her is the space and the resources and the technology to enable her and her staff to do their incredibly important job as well as it can be done. And that’s what we’ve been working on.”

In an email, a number of private and public sector executives who work with Roche also offered support.

“As a former social worker who has built a career in child welfare, Commissioner Roche understands the complex situations many DCF families face. There are certainly areas where we need to improve our systems, and Olga has the support of myself and the Governor as she takes on this task. It is important to have a steady hand during this time, and that is exactly the type of leadership Commissioner Roche has demonstrated.” HHS Secretary John Polanowicz said.

Erin G. Bradley, Executive Director, Children’s League of Massachusetts also lent her support.

“The DCF commissioner’s job is incredibly difficult, and Olga Roche is up to task. We have worked very closely with her since she took on this new role and we know she does not back down from a challenge,” Bradley said. “We have every hope that she is the leader to steer DCF through this difficult time. Changing Commissioners at this point would not bring the Commonwealth any closer to achieving DCF’s primary responsibility of protecting children.”

The letter from the lawmakers referenced a report from the state’s child advocate that found that DCF social workers missed nearly one in five required home visits over a recent 12-month period. Administration officials said that figure was misleading because it does not account for visits held in other settings, such as schools, and lag times in paperwork.

Among the eight Democrats who signed the letter was Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton, House chairman of the Legislature’s public safety committee.

“Through the course of the investigation into DCF procedures, disturbing information revealed a severe lack of oversight which has led to the mistreatment, and in some cases possible loss of life, of too many innocent children under the Commonwealth’s custody and care,” Naughton said in a statement.

Other signers of the letter were House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading; and Reps. Jonathan Zlotnik, D-Gardner; Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg; Matthew Beaton, R-Shrewsbury; Peter Durant, R-Charlton; Kimberly Ferguson, R-Holden; Paul Frost, R-Auburn; Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge; George Peterson, R-Grafton; Todd Smola, R-Palmer; James O’Day, D-West Boylston; Anne Gobi, D-Spencer; John Mahoney, D-Worcester; Daniel Donahue, D-Worcester; Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster; Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk; Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton; James Lyons, R-North Andover; Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica; Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman; and Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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