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Patricks says it makes sense to keep her, fix problems

BOSTON — The head of the embattled Department of Children and Families offered to resign after social workers lost track of a 5-year-old boy who is now feared dead, but Gov. Deval Patrick said Friday that he refused to accept.

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Patrick has resisted calls to fire Commissioner Olga Roche over the case of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who has not been seen by family members since last September and is feared dead.

Patrick said during his monthly radio show on WGBH-FM that it makes more sense to keep Roche on to focus on fixing problems in the agency rather than using her resignation to “paper over” the troubles and leave them for his successor. He said that it wouldn’t serve the best interest of children to ask for Roche’s resignation.

An aide to Patrick said Roche had offered to step down if Patrick no longer had confidence in her, but that she had not delivered a formal letter of resignation.

Three DCF employees – a social worker, a supervisor and an area manager – were fired after an internal investigation. Officials said a social worker did not make required monthly visits to the family.

Oliver’s mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the case.

Calls for Roche’s resignation have increased in recent weeks. Two dozen Massachusetts lawmakers last week sent a letter to Patrick seeking her resignation. Charlie Baker, a Republican candidate for governor, has also called on her to step down.

 


Charlie Baker lost to Deval Patrick in 2014

BOSTON — Charlie Baker says he learned the art of politics around the kitchen table watching his Democratic mother and Republican father hash out the issues of the day.

“They weren’t trying to score points when they were debating. They were trying to get somewhere,” said Baker, a Republican making his second bid for the governor’s office.

It was a lesson that would serve Baker well years later when he took a job as Health and Human Services secretary and later as budget chief for former GOP Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci.

Weld and Cellucci also practiced the art of political compromise as they negotiated with Democratic leaders, Baker said.

“If they had a choice between scoring points or getting something done, they almost always chose getting something done,” Baker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Baker said he’ll also adopt a practical approach if elected, focusing on what he calls a “meat and potatoes type of agenda” of jobs and education.

“If you talk to most people about what they really care about … they want to be able to work and pay their bills, they want their kids to go to good schools and they want to live in safe, thriving places,” he said.

While workers in the state’s “knowledge economy” are succeeding, he said, workers in more traditional fields are hurting.

Baker said the state needs to better prepare workers for an abundant supply of skilled jobs like machinists and tool and die makers. He said vocational and technical schools can only go so far and the state should help subsidize employers for on-the-job training.

“We’ve drawn this bright line between job training and workforce development and actual work when the truth of the matter is that in many cases, the real opportunity is probably to support the actual work,” said Baker, 57.

Baker also backs an increase in the state’s minimum wage but would tie it to an overhaul of the unemployment insurance system. He supports putting a question before voters that would repeal the state’s casino law, though he’s not sure how he would vote.

He’s called the federal health care law “burdensome ” and said Massachusetts should seek a waiver, given the state’s success in expanding health care.

“My preferred option would be: ‘We’re doing it fine here, leave us alone,'” he said.

Another challenge is the stubborn achievement gap in the state’s schools.

Baker said he’d focus less on prekindergarten and more on K-12 education — lifting caps on charter schools, investing in longer school days and encouraging more individualized structured teaching and classroom autonomy.

“The lost opportunity in not getting kids the kind of education they deserve is enormous,” he said.

Baker, who ran for governor in 2010 and lost to Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, faces fellow Republican Mark Fisher for his party’s nomination. Five Democrats and three independent candidates are also in the running. Baker is considered the Republican front-runner and finished January with a campaign account balance of $562,808.

Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has also been critical of Patrick’s handling of the Department of Children and Families following the disappearance of a 5-year-old boy now feared dead.

Baker has called for the resignation of DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and said the state needs to more aggressively pinpoint potential trouble areas by managing DCF on a region-by-region basis.

“There’s been almost no evidence of that,” he said. “Instead, it’s just one reactive thing after another that just makes everyone more and more concerned.”

Baker has also faulted Attorney General Martha Coakley, who topped a recent poll among Democratic candidates for governor, saying she should advise Patrick to settle a lawsuit with a New York-based children rights group over the state’s foster care system.


State does not do good job protecting kids, group says
Gov Patrick weighs outside review of child welfare agency

BOSTON — Child welfare watchdog groups say Massachusetts does not do a good job protecting children in foster care when compared to other states.

Massachusetts ranked 38 out of 50 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.

Massachusetts was one of five states that failed to report response times to abuse allegations to the federal government.

State officials tell The Boston Globe the statistics are not a perfect measure of how the state does protecting children.

The state Department of Children and Families has come under fire for the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy.


Changes follow missing Fitchburg boy case

Nothing found in search for missing boy

WORCESTER, Mass. — The Department of Children and Families is removing children at risk of abuse from their families at a higher rate than in the past under new directives by Commissioner Olga I. Roche following the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy in the agency’s care.

The Telegram reports that the agency has filed 42 care and protection petitions in Worcester, Milford, Dudley, Leominster and Fitchburg courts. Juvenile court judges will decide if a child has been or is at risk, whether the guardian is unfit to care for the child and who will have custody.

Jeremiah Oliver has not been seen by relatives since September, but police only recently learned of the disappearance.

Roche’s directive to improve the safety net includes a promise to secure money to hire staff.


Jeremiah Oliver missing since September

Tattoo eyed in Fitchburg missing boy case

LEOMINSTER, Mass. —Worker caseloads are stunningly high at a Massachusetts Department of Children and Families office criticized for how it handled a case involving a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who has been missing since September, according to child welfare advocates.

The Boston Herald reports that one worker at the Leominster office oversaw 57 children, nearly half of whom were in foster care. Six other workers were overseeing 40 or more children apiece. Sixty workers have filed grievances saying their caseloads exceeded the state-mandated limit of 18, according to labor union officials.

“That seems inconceivable to me,” said Maria Mossaides, executive director of Cambridge Family and Children’s Service and chair of the Children’s League of Massachusetts.

The Leominster office is the one that served the family of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg, who has been missing since September and is feared dead. Three DCF workers were fired and a fourth disciplined in connection with the agency’s failures in handling the family’s case.

DCF Commissioner Olga Roche said an internal investigation by the agency found staff missed multiple opportunities to engage with the Oliver family through home visits and sometimes went months between meetings with the family.

The boy disappeared in September, but police didn’t learn that until last month. They are treating the case as a possible homicide.

The boy’s mother, Elsa Oliver, and her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra Jr., were arrested in connection with the alleged abuse of Oliver’s two other children. Oliver and Sierra have pleaded not guilty to child endangerment, abuse and other charges. Searchers have looked for the boy, to no avail.

Mossaides and other advocates are placing some blame on DCF budget cuts and low staffing levels.

Gov. Deval Patrick said last month that he didn’t believe the case represented a “system-wide breakdown.”

“There are hundreds of triumphs every day in the lives of children thanks to the people who work at DCF,” he said.