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Patrick Announces Plan to Clean Up State's Child Welfare Department

The announcement comes months after a five-year-old Fitchburg boy went missing.

Governor Deval Patrick. File photo.
Governor Deval Patrick. File photo.
A national agency will investigate the commonwealth's embattled Department of Children and Families and make recommendations for changes. Governor Deval Patrick has asked the Child Welfare League to study the Department of Children and Families. Patrick announced the investigation during a Monday morning press conference.

"I think we have a great opportunity presented—ironically by this great tragedy—to rethink and to reinvigorate the department and i want to ensure the public that is just what we intend to do," said Patrick.

The department has come under fire after the tragic case of Jeremiah Oliver, 5, who is missing and feared dead. In that case, the social worker assigned to Oliver made only two monthly visits between January 2013 and Oliver's disappearance in December. The social worker, supervisor and manager in that case have all been fired, according to Patrick.

Mother Elsa Oliver and her boyfriend Alberto Sierra have been charged with child endangerment and abuse of Jeremiah's older brother and sister.

"We have a record here that shows not only did the social worker and her supervisor fail to do what they were supposed to do, they covered it up," said Patrick.

Patrick also announced some immediate steps he plans to take while the league investigates the department. The state will rejigger the department's regional offices to even out workloads among social workers. The current configuration is based on communities rather than the number of cases per social worker.

Patrick said he would seek more staffing for the department, and asked that the legislature provide funding to hire more social workers.  

He has also asked the department to find ways to improve reporting time. The department currently works off of written reports, which means the information is already out of date by the time it reaches the file. 

Asked for an example of technology improving reporting times, Patrick pointed to the Department of Environmental Protection. Case workers there use tablets and file reports from the field, giving the department instantaneous updates on projects. 

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