DeLeo, Murray call on Roche to resign

Patrick expresses own concerns about commissioner


As House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray called for the immediate resignation of Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche on Monday, Gov. Deval Patrick expressed his own lack of confidence in the agency after two new child deaths were reported over the weekend.

The situation, which has been simmering since the agency lost track of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy last fall, reached a boiling point on Monday after the Department of Children and Families admitted that it had misplaced a fax from the Grafton Police Department reporting suspected abuse of an infant that delayed an investigation.

“I feel at this point that there is a severe lack of proper management at DCF and as speaker of the House I think it is incumbent upon me to call upon Commissioner of DCF Olga Roche to resign,” DeLeo said at a press conference outside his office.

One-month-old Aliana Lavigne was found dead in a Grafton apartment earlier this month, two days after social workers found the week-old fax from Grafton police. Another infant – two-week old Bailey Irish – died on Saturday after her family missed a scheduled DCF visit the day before.

“I’m very much angered to see this continuing to happen. It shows to me complete mismanagement on behalf of DCF. We have to take strong action. We can’t wait until the end of the year. We can’t wait for a new governor,” DeLeo said.

The speaker’s angry call for Roche’s resignation came as the House began debate on a $36.2 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2015 that includes additional funding to hire more social workers and equip them with the technology needed to better perform their duties tracking families under the department’s watch.

Murray followed up DeLeo’s press conference with a statement of her own saying that not only should Roche step down but the entire agency must be examined.

“In combination with Commissioner Roche’s resignation, we need to make sure we are bringing someone in to turn this agency around and providing the necessary resources to support their work. We are experiencing a serious crisis regarding the safety of our children and we need real leadership now,” Murray said in a statement.

Roche has so far weathered previous calls from lawmakers for her resignation as Gov. Deval Patrick has publicly stood behind her and insisted that changing leadership in the midst of a crisis could destabilize the agency and stand in the way of making the necessary changes to improve the performance of the department.

“My confidence in that whole organization has been rattled. The question is how do we get to the solutions. I’m not confident that [firing Roche] is an adequate solution but she has some questions to answer for me,” Patrick said Monday at Logan Airport where he was attending an event.

Patrick said he was not only angry that DCF workers failed to read and act on a fax from the Grafton police, but also angry that police didn’t follow up with a phone call and at the “finger pointing” within DCF and the suggestion by “unnamed caseworkers” that the fax went unread because someone was on vacation.

The administration has previously said that Roche offered to resign if the governor had lost faith in her, but he declined to accept that offer.

Asked Monday what it would take for him to remove Roche, Patrick said, “It’ll take the view that it actually does something other than simply throwing another scalp to the public. We have to solve problems, not just paper them over, not just make a dramatic gesture. You’ve seen before I’m prepared to fire people who are not doing their job or doing it well enough.”

Patrick said he has asked DCF to respond to questions about the new cases that have not yet been “adequately” answered, including whether Lavigne’s death could have been prevented if an investigation were launched sooner.

The body of missing five-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, who had been missing since last fall, was discovered two weeks ago off a highway in Sterling. Audits of the department and a review of the Oliver case found that social workers failed to make routine, required family visits and failed to properly report on the agency’s contact with his family.

“These incidents that we’re talking about today have nothing to do with money. Checking a fax has nothing to do with money. Putting on a report that you saw a child when you didn’t see the child has nothing to do with money,” DeLeo said.

House Post Audit and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. David Linsky, of Natick, appeared with DeLeo outside the speaker’s office. Linksy’s committee has been investigating DCF, but the Natick Democrat over the winter resisted calling for Roche’s resignation even as other lawmakers started beating the drums.

Linsky and DeLeo on Monday said that the Post Audit and Oversight Committee in January had requested a 90-day plan from DCF to rectify some of the management problems at the agency. The committee has not yet received the plan.

“This is just another tragic situation where we’re losing children and we’re losing it because of a lack of basic management, a lack of basic business skills. It’s not money. It’s not personnel. It’s simply a failure of leadership and a failure of management,” Linsky said.

Linsky said of Patrick, “He needs to put a new team in place there today.”

Both DeLeo and Linsky acknowledged the difficult work done every day by social workers at DCF who on any given day are monitoring 36,000 cases assigned to the department’s supervision, but said that does not excuse basic breakdowns in communication and oversight that are leading to deaths.

Massachusetts is not alone facing these types of problems. In Florida, the head of the state’s child welfare agency resigned in the wake of child deaths from abuse and neglect. Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed a new secretary of the Department of Children and Families from within the agency.

DeLeo said he has not yet spoken to the governor about the new incidents, but said his chief of staff had communicated with the Patrick’s chief of staff about DeLeo’s desire to see new leadership at the agency. The speaker said the next commissioner should be someone with strong management skills, but doesn’t necessarily have to be someone with a great familiarity with DCF.

“The speaker has my telephone number. I expect I’ll hear from him in due course,” Patrick said.

Responding to a question about whether the Grafton police should have followed up the fax with a phone call, DeLeo said if he were police chief he might have made sure a follow-up call was made, but added that it doesn’t change the fact that a fax was sent and “neglected.”

“There has to be communication between the folks at DCF and the local police departments to get their acts together in terms of what types of communications that are going to be necessary to bring to their attention that there is a possibility that the child may be in danger,” DeLeo said.

Republican Charlie Baker, the GOP candidate for governor who has repeatedly called for Roche’s resignation, welcomed the message from the speaker.

“Commissioner Roche’s resignation is long overdue, and Attorney General Coakley should stop fighting child advocates in court immediately to begin reforming the agency. In January I called for a detailed review of the agency to identify and solve systemic problems that continue to endanger children – today I am asking state leaders to move swiftly to enact this plan,” Baker said in a statement.

Baker’s plan includes a provision that would require documentation from local school and law enforcement officials that they are satisfied with their relationship with local DCF offices. The candidate said if such a requirement were in place it could have prevented Lavigne’s death.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
On FOX25 Monday morning before DeLeo’s press conference, Treasurer Steven Grossman said “DCF has lost credibility in the minds of most people in the state,” and said rebuilding the public’s trust starts with replacing Roche as head of the agency.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is also running for governor, told the Boston Herald on Monday she agreed with the calls for Roche’s resignation, and independent candidate for governor Jeffrey McCormick and Democrat Joe Avellone joined the chorus of voices saying Roche ought to step down.