Governor Charlie Baker promised system-wide reform in DCF as well as an independent investigation into the Bella Bond case.
Baker and the frontline of Child Protection Workers are on the offense, taking aim at reforming the Department of Children and Families following a laundry-list of mishaps, mishandlings, and antiquated policies that have lead to child abuse, neglect and death in many cases of kids in the state protective service.
“DCF’s fundamental purpose is to keep kids safe,” Baker said. “DCF often suffers from mission confusion.”
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The system-wide reform hopes to prevent cases from slipping through the cracks, resulting in fatal scenarios like Jeremiah Oliver, Alavena Conway-Coxon, Bella Bond and the 180 children abused or neglected in state custody in 2014, according to a report released in August.
Baker, who campaigned on repairing the embattled agency, laid out six new policy platforms at Monday morning’s press conference. DCF will update their 12-year-old intake policy, conduct CORI checks in all cases, review the number and nature of 911 calls to foster homes, and up the number of social workers in order to balance the case number to caseworkers back to the standard of 18 to one.
Currently, caseworkers are overburdened with an average of of over 20 cases per worker, Baker said. He hopes that by bringing the caseloads down to a more manageable level, DCF will be able to conduct more thurough investigations into “complex cases.”
"Caseload reduction goes hand-in-hand with policy and oversight reform," SEIU Local 509 Communications Director Jason Stephany said. "All of the policy points play critical roles in child protection."
Baker said that the Central Massachusetts office, who covers from Worcester out to the New York border, is so overrun that DCF is reopening the Central Massachusetts Regional Office, which was closed in 2009 due to budget cuts.
"For years, social workers and investigators have called for meaningful reform and investment at DCF, but we've only seen attempts at quick fixes,” SEIU Local 509 DCF Chapter President Peter MacKinnon said. “This is an unprecedented collaboration between frontline child protection workers and agency administrators. Working together, we will succeed in doing what has been necessary for so long, making deep, systemic changes."
MacKinnon said that pushes and demands for reform “have fallen on deaf ears” since the 1980’s.
"Patchworked attempts did little more than create a spate of misguided directives, confusing memos and disjointed, half-complete policies," MacKinnon said. "A frontline that operates without clear guidance on agency policies or best practice, a worsening caseload crisis and reactionary directives that reduce much of our work to drive-by social work."
Bella Bond was under DCF investigation in 2012 and 2013 for “support and neglect,” but her file was closed. Her mother, Rachelle Bond, had two children taken from her in 2001 and 2006. The two children were about 10 years older than Bella.