State DCF head Olga Roche steps down in wake of child deaths
Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz announced Tuesday that embattled Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche has stepped down.
Polanowicz, Roche’s boss, made the announcement at a press conference at the state office building on Ashburton Place, one day after Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray called for her resignation.
“Today I have accepted her resignation because I believe it is not possible for the agency to move forward with her at the helm,” he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick, who was present at the announcement, said he was saddened, but agreed that Roche not only lacked the trust of the public, but of her staff.
Roche, who has worked in social services for 33 years, did not attend the press conference, but Patrick said she told him that “whatever she does still causes folks to call for her resignation; that she cannot garner the confidence of the public or of her line staff.”
“I think the time for a change is now; I don’t think it’s right, but I think it’s necessary,” Patrick said.
The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that Patrick’s office had started seeking candidates to replace Roche, who has been under fire following the recent deaths of two infants and the high-profile case of a missing Fitchburg boy, who two weeks ago was found dead by a Sterling roadway.
Polanowicz said Deputy Commissioner Erin Deveney would helm the agency in the interim until a permanent replacement is found.
One-month-old Aliana Lavigne was found dead in a Grafton apartment earlier this month, two days after social workers found a week-old fax from Grafton police.
Another infant, 2-week old Bailey Irish, died Saturday after her family missed a scheduled DCF visit the day before.
On April 18, the body of a missing Fitchburg 5-year-old, Jeremiah Oliver, was found by an interstate in Sterling. The boy had been missing since September, though his disappearance wasn’t reported until December.
A review found that social workers failed to make required family visits and properly report on DCF’s contact with Oliver’s family.
Polanowicz said they were changing the agency’s reporting form so that police clearly know protocol when reporting child welfare.
“DCF has one of the toughest assignments imaginable. Every single day they’re called upon to intervene and make difficult decisions,” Patrick said on Tuesday. “And most of the time, DCF gets it right.”