April 10, 2014
By State Senator Richard J. Ross
Many of my constituents have contacted me in regard to the recent developments in the scandal plagued Department of Children and Families (DCF). No issue has brought to the foreground the failure of an executive agency like the tragic events under DCF oversight. The outrage is understandable since this agency is charged with serving the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents – children and families at risk of abuse and neglect. DCF appears to have exhibited general negligence and inattention to its primary duty.
The fact that these extreme inadequacies were only brought to light upon the disappearance of a five year old child is entirely unacceptable. The immediate response from DCF was to dismiss the employees directly involved, followed by the initiation of an internal review of the department. The scope of responsibility has quickly expanded as coverage of the case progressed to include one rogue worker, to a few incompetent employees, to a supervisor. DCF’s inconsistent assignment of blame clearly illustrates a systemic issue within DCF, threatening the safety of the Commonwealth’s children.
Recognizing the shortsighted and limited nature of these actions, I joined with several colleagues in the legislature requesting State Auditor Suzanne Bump and Inspector General Glenn Cunha to conduct a full review and examination of DCF’s procedures and practices. Governor Patrick also tasked the Child Welfare League of America to review the practices and policies of DCF.
The subsequent report by Auditor Bump found that DCF did not ensure children were receiving the proper medical screenings and examinations while in custody, that DCF has maintained inadequate records of background checks performed on individuals living in foster homes, and that DCF has not been verifying the proximity of level 2 and 3 sex offenders before finalizing foster care placements.
An amendment I co-sponsored to the Supplemental Budget, which remains before the Legislature, would impose a six-month moratorium on approval of any new foster care placements where an individual or family member has been convicted of a felony, absent written findings on the placement’s necessity and absence of a threat to the child’s safety. Boosting the safety measures in place will potentially allow DCF to address deficiencies in their systems and maintain the protection of all children in DCF care.
Though we can all comprehend the enormity of the mission and work of DCF, we cannot continue to dismiss these tragic occurrences as routine or acceptable losses. The death of even one child is too many, and DCF and Governor Patrick need to step up and determine where reforms can and should be made. This includes the termination of agency heads, not just those case workers and others on the front lines.
Throughout my years in the Senate, I have made increased oversight and transparency in state government one of my top priorities. As bills are presented to the Senate, I have sought out opportunities for the department or agency at issue to evaluate and report on its fiscal and operational status, as well as its needs and plans moving forward. Furthermore, I consistently request that any reports filed by state departments, agencies, committees and commissions be made available online to the public. Numerous pieces of legislation contain additional reporting and online posting requirements based on my proposals.
Enhancing oversight and transparency in state government would increase scrutiny for all offices, supplementing precautions to prevent negligence, carelessness, and even abuse. These are the steps we need to take to ensure that the tragedies we have seen take place under DCF’s watch will never occur again.
The need for an immediate change in management and oversight at DCF has been made painfully clear by these facts. Basic safeguards, including medical examinations and background checks, have fallen by the wayside, leaving incomplete records and severe risks throughout the system. If the leadership is unable to uphold the proper precautions and protocols, placing children across the Commonwealth in danger, then it should not be charged with their care any longer.