• Some DCF workers protest 'unsafe caseloads'

    BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) -- Some employees of the Department of Children and Families are taking to the streets this week to protest growing caseloads.

    The employees work out of the Lowell and Dorchester offices.

    According to department data, the Dorchester office has seen a nearly 14-percent hike in cases despite no new hires.

    In Lowell, there were 9 times as many social workers handling what they call unsafe caseloads compared to the same time in 2013.

    Workers say it creates concern about whether DCF can actually keep children safe. They're asking for more help and are encouraging people to contact their legislators to demand reforms.

    On Tuesday, social workers protested outside DCF offices in Lowell, saying that their caseloads are skyrocketing and there's no way they can do their job safely if things stay this way.  The union representing social workers, SEIU, says social workers have 5,000 more caseloads since last March, but only have the same staffing they had last March.

    They want more help, more money, and they say they're quickly losing faith in the current state administration.  "This is the worst I've seen it with the new directives coming in," said social worker Kelly Ballum.

    The new directives were put in place by DCF Commissioner Olga Roche after the agency failed to follow through in the Jeremiah Oliver case.

    On Friday, police recovered the body of the Fitchburg boy,stuffed in a suitcase and discarded off the highway in Sterling.

    Oliver had been missing since last September, though his social worker hadn't visited his family check on him since last May. 

    "We get into this job because we care about kids. We care about families," said social worker Jennifer Capone in Lowell Tuesday.  "We don't want anything like that to happen, and I feel like, with the caseloads being as high as they are, that there's the potential for something like that to happen more than ever."

    Governor Deval Patrick says he has refused the resignation of his embattled commissioner, and is standing by her.

    On Tuesday, when asked if Roche is staying, his response was, "Yes." 

    We asked SEIU spokesperson Jason Stephany if the onus is now on the governor. 

    "I think the onus falls on the Department of Children and Families, to be quite honest," Stephany said.  When pressed, since Governor Patrick had refused Roche's resignation, Stephany said the governor relies on his secretaries and commissioners to execute their duties. 

    He added, "Front line social workers have made their concerns very clear to this commissioner, to the secretary, to the governor.   We've also made it clear [the social workers] have increasing doubts in Commissioner Roche's ability to execute the reforms and investments that are needed at the department."

    The union says DCF deserves credit for hiring 122 new social workers since January, but argue that hasn't kept up with attrition. Members want another 382 hires plus 41 supervisors, and another $17 million dollars on top of the $9 million they've been given.

    Governor Patrick told FOX 25 that staffing levels and caseload issues are a "negotiation with the union who represents workers at DCF."
    In a statement, a DCF spokesperson wrote that the administration shares goals with the social workers, stating that they have hired 150 more staff and are working to make technology improvements.

    Dorchester workers will march Wednesday.

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