• Beacon Hill lawmakers grill DCF Commissioner Olga Roche


    BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) -- For several hours Thursday, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families tried to explain just how her organization lost track of a 5-year-old boy that police fear is dead.

    The hearing wrapped up at about 6 p.m. Thursday, but for hours lawmakers from the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee grilled DCF commissioner Olga Roche about what went wrong, how it's getting fixed, and how she'll make sure it never happens again.

    Chairman David Linsky said, "We need to make sure these kids are alive. Do you realize this? That your department lost track of a kid?"

    The child in question is 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver. Oliver had been missing for several months before his sister told a teacher she hadn't seen her brother in some time. The boy's mother and her boyfriend have been charged in the case.

    Roche defended her handling of the agency, saying she'd taken the right steps, including firing Oliver's social worker, and two supervisors.

    Linsky asked Roche to give him assurance that there are no other "Jeremiah Oliver's out there today."

    Roche said she was 100 percent confident that there were none. She went on to say that the agency has accounted for the 36,000 children in its care.

    The child advocate's report released Thursday uncovered some disturbing details. It showed the Oliver family had a history with social services in another state, and that Massachusetts did not pick up on it. It also said that Oliver's social worker didn't read about his whole file, just a summary and that she'd failed to check on him from May until December. It also said that the child advocate was looking at another case with the same social worker in Fitchburg, the same type of thing was happening and supervisors didn't hold her accountable.

    Roche maintains that it's not a systemic issue.

    "This was a unique circumstance of a social worker and a supervisor and a manager who failed to do their duties," Roche said.

    Roche repeatedly lauded Governor Deval Patrick for looking to invest another $9.2 million in the agency, which drew a heated response from Linsky.

    "You can pour all the millions of dollars you want if there's a total breakdown there's no amount of money that's going to fix it," Linsky said.

    The child advocate's report did say while it's not an excuse, the heavy caseload in the office that handled Oliver does give context.

    The union said that can't be ignored.

    Peter Mackinnon of Local SEIU 509 said, "If they weren't doing their jobs we want the accountability, but the caseloads are at such a crisis point in that office that to say that's not a piece of it we're not looking at the real issue."

    Linsky calls DCF's problems systemic, and is not confident all kids in DCF care are safe.

    "I am not confident. Clearly there was a big problem in the Leominster office whereby three levels of supervision failed in their jobs. And what we also learned today this is not the first time that the same people in that office failed in their jobs," he said.

    Linsky said the panel of lawmakers will make sure DCF gets the funding it needs, but added there has to be some accountability. There were also questions about how one third of the agency's social workers are not licensed.

    The oversight committee will hold more hearings in the next couple of weeks; now they're looking for documents as they continue investigating.

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