EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

February 23, 2014

Your view: Letters to the editor

Patience, analysis, needed in DCF review

To the editor:

Gov. Deval Patrick has directed an external review of operations within the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Legislature is conducting its own series of hearings into the same matter.

Massachusetts, a state that used to ranking highly in relation to other states, is now ranked either near or at the bottom of the barrel in caring for at-risk children. The Boston Globe recently reported that Massachusetts ranked 38 out of 50 states in the percent of foster children visited each month by caseworkers, according to 2012 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the most recent data available. In the category of children not mistreated again within six months, the state ranked 45th. In terms of moving foster children between homes, not providing children stability, Massachusetts ranked 44th. In regard to response times to reports of child abuse, Massachusetts was one of five states that failed to report data to the federal government because it had no centralized system for tracking abuse or neglect cases.

While United States District Court Judge William G. Young recently declined to compel Massachusetts to take measures to correct deficiencies in its foster care system in response to a lawsuit, he was highly critical of the commonwealth’s performance. The judge blamed problems largely on lack of funding, rather than mismanagement: The agency’s budget fell from a high of $836.5 million in fiscal 2009 to $737.1 million in fiscal 2012, resulting in 200 fewer caseworkers in the DCF’s ranks while caseloads expanded.

This said, however, internal mismanagement is also a significant problem. For example, many of the very serious shortcomings at DCF (failure to ensure home visits, or failure to respond to repeated reports of child abuse received from a public school) can be attributed, at least in great part, to the fact that the information systems in use to manage cases are badly antiquated and not capable of adequately supporting the case work. It is clearly the responsibility of management to demand and acquire adequate tools for its employees to use.

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