Audit finds problems in Mass. DCF
BOSTON — The Department of Children and Families failed to check whether registered sex offenders were living in or near foster homes and neglected to ensure all children get required medical screenings within seven days of being placed in Massachusetts’ care, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
The agency also could not adequately document that required background checks had been performed on all people living in foster homes, the report from Auditor Suzanne Bump found. DCF additionally could not adequately document that the personal information of children in its care was being safeguarded, opening the door to possible identity theft.
Bump said the importance of the audit is not in its tally of how many health checks or background checks are performed, but in DCF’s inability to account for them.
She also pointed to what she called on the lack of resources and failure to update computer systems that she said would help managers better supervise staff and ensure the safety of children is being monitoring.
“If it’s not monitored, it’s not detected,” she told reporters.
Bump declined to comment on whether top staff at DCF, including Commissioner Olga Roche, should be removed. She said many of the problems in the report were longstanding and “not of recent vintage.”
The audit covers July 2010 to September 2012, and is not related to the case of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who is missing and feared dead. The agency has been under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that social workers lost track of the boy, whose family was being monitored by DCF.
Gov. Deval Patrick thanked Bump for the audit and said the state has already begun working on some of the recommendations.
“I don’t think there are surprises, really, or anything really new,” Patrick told reporters. “It’s mostly pretty technical stuff, some things we’ve been working on for a while.”
The auditor said a cross-check of reported home addresses of the two more serious levels of sex offenders and of DCF caregivers, including foster homes, turned up 25 matches during the audit. DCF said none of the registered sex offenders were living in the same home as a child and there were no reports of children being abused.
Bump recommended that the agency use information held by the Sex Offender Registry Board to ensure that children are not placed in any danger.
“We do think that is an area of risk,” she said.
Jason Stephany, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union, SEIU Local 509, faulted Bump for not speaking directly to front-line social workers.
If auditors had spoken with social workers, they “would have identified today’s real barriers to successful child protection — from the worsening caseload crisis to disjointed implementation of key directives and policies,” Stephany said.
A preliminary report issued this month by the Child Welfare League of America, which had been asked by Patrick to conduct an independent review of DCF, recommended heightened monitoring of foster homes and reduced caseload for social workers.
Patrick has asked lawmakers for more funding for the agency to help lower caseload.