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Audit: DCF Missing Serious Injuries Suffered By Kids In Its Care

Author: Ryan Kath

BOSTON (CBS) – The Department of Children and Families did not know about 260 serious injuries to kids under the agency’s care, including gunshot wounds, burns, broken bones and head contusions.

That is the one of the glaring findings of a report released Thursday by State Auditor Suzanne Bump, who analyzed two years of DCF data in 2014 and 2015.

The audit also found that DCF did not always report “critical incidents” to the agency’s watchdog, the Office of the Child Advocate. Some of those cases included a stabbing, rape, assault with a baseball bat, and suicide attempt.

State Auditor Suzanna Bump with WBZ-TV’s Ryan Kath (WBZ-TV)

Finally, one other significant finding was the failure to refer 19 cases to district attorneys, meaning the incidents were never investigated for possible criminal charges.

“Those kids were victimized and nobody paid a price,” Bump told WBZ’s Ryan Kath. “That’s not serving children well. It’s not serving the agency well. And it’s not serving the public well.”

Related: I-Team finds thousands of runaway incidents of kids in DCF custody

All children in DCF care are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth. Bump’s office reviewed medical records and discovered the serious injuries the child welfare agency did not know about.

In its response, DCF said it relies on doctors and other healthcare professionals who are legally responsible to report suspected abuse or neglect. The agency also said reviewing MassHealth claims would provide “after-the-fact” information.

However, Bump countered that DCF should be using all the tools available to make sure that serious injuries are not going undetected.

“I thought that response was inadequate to say the least,” Bump told WBZ.

The audit also found 16 instances when DCF did not report “critical incidents” to its oversight agency, the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA).

In a statement, the OCA said that have accurate and comprehensive reporting is a primary goal.

“As the State Auditor found, some of the challenges in critical incident reporting are to have an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a critical incident,” the statement said.

In its response, DCF agreed its critical incident reporting process needs to streamlined to make sure it is fulfilling its obligation.

The audit also highlighted 19 cases where the agency did not make a formal referral to the local district attorney’s office. According to the report, once prosecutors reviewed the case information, some indicated they would have conducted criminal investigations.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump (WBZ-TV)

During a phone call with reporters, Health & Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders disputed that her agency had not reported the incidents to law enforcement. Regardless, Sudders indicated DCF already updated its policy last February to make sure DA referrals are consistently made when appropriate.

On Thursday afternoon, Governor Baker defended improvements DCF has made since he took office and said data in the audit was outdated.

“The report issued today predates the beginning of our administration and predates in many cases the reforms we pursued,” Baker told WBZ.

The Governor said DCF has undergone a series of publicized changes, including the investment of $100 million, the hiring of nearly 400 social workers and managers, and the overhaul of agency policies and procedures.

The agency has been under scrutiny after several high-profile child deaths, including Bella Bond and the Auburn toddler who died in a foster care home.

“I believe we’ve made progress on basically everything in that report,” Baker said. “We never made bones about the fact that DCF had significant problems and we’ve been working over the course of the past couple of years on all of those.”

Elsewhere on Beacon Hill, there was a different reaction from House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

“He is incredibly upset and troubled by the Auditor’s DCF report,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the Speaker’s office has reached out to the OCA to consider future steps.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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