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Editorial: Inexcusable hole in safety net

The disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver is an inexcusable hole in the state’s safety net.

This child didn’t suddenly pop up on the radar of the Department of Child and Families. No, this little boy and his family in Fitchburg had been receiving state services since 2011. The department has a file on the child that includes reports of child abuse.

Jeremiah should have been secure in society’s safety net.

Instead, he hasn’t been seen since September, a fact that didn’t come to light until earlier this month.

And it wasn’t the state that made the discovery. Jeremiah’s sister told a teacher that her mother’s boyfriend was hurting her. Police were then informed and discovered the boy had disappeared. The police are now calling it a “possible homicide.”

Since then, the public has learned that Jeremiah and two siblings were supposed to have monthly visits from a social worker assigned to the case, yet that individual hadn’t seen the child since May. The caseworker, who along with a supervisor have been fired, has said in published reports that she was told by the mother that Jeremiah was living in Florida.

But she didn’t take any steps to see if this was true. Jeremiah’s mother and her boyfriend have been placed in police custody but neither are answering questions about the boy’s whereabouts

So much for our safety net.

Gov. Deval Patrick has said the state will investigate to determine where officials failed Jeremiah.

But we agree with those in the state Senate who are calling for an independent probe into the DCF. In the letter asking for an investigation by state Auditor Suzanne Bump and Inspector General Glenn Cunha, the authors say, “The Department’s mandate requires it to intervene and protect the right of children to have sound health and normal physical development. First and foremost among its service principles is to ensure the safety of children. Whether or not the DCF is maintaining meaningful contact with each child within its auspices should be a paramount concern to us all.”

Only with such an investigation can the state help ensure that this doesn’t happen to someone else.

In the meantime, we will continue to hope that Jeremiah is found safe and sound.

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