EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

March 14, 2014

Group issues Mass. child welfare recommendations

BOSTON (AP) — Giving smartphones to social workers and taking photos of all children who enter state care are among the recommendations of an independent group examining Massachusetts’ child welfare system.

The group also recommends heightened monitoring of foster homes and staffing levels of no more than a dozen cases assigned to a single social worker in the assessment stage and no more than 17 for ongoing cases.

The Department of Children and Families has been under scrutiny since social workers lost track of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who has not been seen since September and is feared dead.

Gov. Deval Patrick asked the Child Welfare League of America to review the agency.

In an initial report released yesterday, the group said giving handheld devices to social workers would give them access to real-time case files, and taking photos of children in the system would help track runaways.

The report also recommends heightened case monitoring, home visitation and supervision for children placed with foster parents with felony backgrounds who had been given waivers. The heightened review should take into account the nature of a crime, the circumstances of the crime, and the amount of time that has passed since the crime occurred, the report said.

The report said the state should adopt standards being drafted by national groups, such as the American Bar Association. Some of those standards would bar individuals from serving as foster parents if they have a felony conviction for child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, crimes against children, or for committing violent crimes, including rape, sexual assault, or homicide.

The report also recommends DCF require medical screenings of children within 72 hours of placement and a more comprehensive exam within 30 days. DCF’s existing policy is to arrange for medical screenings within seven days of custody and a complete examination within 30 days of placement.

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