BOSTON (AP) — The state children welfare agency should not be held responsible for the death of a 5-year-old boy whose family was under state supervision, but state officials did not do enough to protect the boy and the case raised a number of other significant issues, according to an independent review released Wednesday.
Gov. Deval Patrick had asked the Child Welfare League of America to investigate the Department of Children and Families following the disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver.
‘DID NOT DO THEIR JOBS’
Relatives said the Fitchburg boy had not been seen since September but police weren’t told until December that he was missing. The boy’s body was discovered along a highway last month.
“While there is significant evidence that some DCF staff did not do their jobs in the Oliver case, there is not evidence that DCF’s actions and failures caused Jeremiah’s death,” the league concluded.
“DCF and many of the adults in Jeremiah’s life failed to protect him.”
The boy’s mother and her boyfriend have been charged with kidnapping and assault and have pleaded not guilty.
Three agency employees were fired and a fourth disciplined after a state investigation revealed missed social worker visits and other failed opportunities to engage with the family.
UNDERSTAFFED AND OUTDATED
In its report, the league said the agency was understaffed and its case policies and protocols were outdated, forcing staff to rely on optional guidelines.
“This patchwork of guidance has been unevenly implemented, inadequately monitored and has resulted in inconsistent practice along DCF regional and area offices,” the league said.
The organization issued a number of preliminary recommendations in March, including giving social workers in the field access to smartphones and taking photos of all children who enter state care.
The group also recommended heightened monitoring of foster homes and staffing levels of no more than a dozen cases assigned to a single social worker in the assessment stage and no more than 17 for ongoing cases.
State officials said many of the recommendations had already been implemented.
“DCF has made strong progress over the past several months increasing staffing and technology through the support of Gov. Patrick and the Legislature,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz, in a statement.
He planned to join interim Commissioner Erin Deveney and other officials at a news conference later Wednesday.
Former Commissioner Olga Roche resigned under pressure from lawmakers last month.
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