Gov. Deval Patrick will unveil a $40 million plan to combat climate change. Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick stood by the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. Credit: Metro Archive

Gov. Deval Patrick called the case of a 5-year-old missing Fitchburg boy a chance to "rethink and reinvigorate" the Department of Children and Families at a Monday press conference.

Jeremiah Oliver was reported missing in December, and has not been seen since.

 

On Monday, Patrick held a news conference to speak about Jeremiah's case, which has been the subject of a criminal investigation, State House hearings and independent reviews.

"Ithink we have a great opportunity presented, ironically, by this terrible tragedy," Patrick said. "We have a real opportunity now, because everyone is focused on it... to rethink and reinvigorate DCF. Some of that will be staffing, and some of that will be systems."

Patrick outlined some changes he wanted to see at DCF, including updating the agency's technology so that workers have real-time access to reports instead of ones that were out of date.

Asked if the problem that led to Jeremiah's disappearance was systemic, Patrick said no. He also stood by DCF Commissioner Olga Roche, who last week testified during a House committee hearing on the issue.

Patrick also said that staffing levels at DCF "are a problem."

Last week, the Office of the Child Advocate released a report that had been requested by Patrick. According to the 11-page document, the excessive caseloads on social workers were no excuse for Jeremiah's disappearance. It also said that social workers were not making 20 percent of home visits.

Jeremiah'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. Both remain in custody.

Three DCF employees have been fired since it was revealed that Jeremiah could not be found and the social worker assigned to his case hadn’t visited his family since April.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.

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