Massachusetts State House Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro file photo
A new report examining the missteps by the Department of Children and Families that led to the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy said that excessive caseloads on social workers were no excuse for the vanishing.
The state Office of the Child Advocate released its report on Thursday after Gov. Deval Patrick requested it when it was learned that Jeremiah Oliver had not been seen for months.
"Excessive caseloads do not excuse the specific failures that prevented DCF from discovering Jeremiah Oliver’s disappearance," the child advocate office wrote in the 11-page report. "DCF supervisors and managers failed to prioritize their limited resources in a manner calculated to do the least harm to children and families."
Oliver's mother, Elsa, was arraigned last month on reckless endangerment of a child and other charges. Her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra, was also arraigned last month on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on a child. They are both being held.
The report said that the higher than allowed caseloads at the North Central Area Office of DCF "provide a context rather than an explanation or excuse for repeated failures."
According to the report, the area office was one of the busiest DCF offices in the state and social workers there had a weighted average of 18.5 caseloads each, which was above the 18 caseload cap agreed to with the social workers union.
The report also discussed the impacts of budget cuts on DCF since the most recent recession, including the layoffs of supervisors.
Three DCF employees have been fired since it was revealed that Oliver could not be found and the social worker assigned to his case hadn't visited his family since April.