DCF and the upskirting standard
Jawbones rattled to the floor across the Commonwealth last week when state lawmakers likely set a legislative speed record with a new law that criminalized upskirting.
Can Beacon Hill act as fast when it comes to child welfare?
Critics of the Department of Children and Families, especially the ones calling for the resignation of Commissioner Olga Roche, have quieted down since Child Welfare League of America issued its preliminary report on DCF in the wake of the Jeremiah Oliver case. The League’s investigators shushed the step-down-now chorus with one simple sentence, “While this study is pending, stability [in the agency’s leadership] is wise.”
Their initial findings confirm what Massachusetts child welfare advocates have been saying for years: The department needs more caseworkers handling fewer cases, better technology tools for its employees, and more effective screening mechanisms for children entering foster care-for starters.
Perhaps, as a result, the news media is slowly turning from headline-grabbing comments about Roche to more constructive discussions of the issues and what should happen next.
Stockman raises questions about the hiring of one of Roche’s friends who became the program supervisor at the agency’s troubled North Central office that monitored the Oliver family.
But Stockman also notes, “What we have never seen is real acknowledgment of how hard this work really is – or consistent political will to hire enough social workers to do it right.”
She goes on to pose a key question: “If we expect such perfection from them, shouldn’t we pay them more, and hire more of them? Each blue ribbon commission adds more tasks, more procedures, but never more resources to get the job done.”
As for the Legislature, newspapers like the Lowell Sun have shifted their focus to the reformers. The Sun reported that Rep. Shelia Harrington, a Groton Republican, proposed a bill that would mandate that the courts consider the “best interests of the child” before trying to keep the family together, the current legal standard. The proposal would give more weight to the parent’s ability to provide for the child’s material and emotional well-being. Harrington told the paper that Oliver, the Fitchburg child whose disappearance led to the current DCF controversy, would probably have been better off in a different placement rather staying with his family.
But changing a legal standard does not require millions of dollars. The Child Welfare League of America has now given lawmakers fair warning that DCF has two major issues, caseload management and technology, dollar-driven problems that have been highlighted dozens of times in the past. They are ones that firing a commissioner or reshuffling groups of social workers from one office to another will not solve.
The League’s investigators can fill in the details, but what needs to happen at DCF is not a mystery. Beacon Hill set a new standard in dealing with subway perverts armed with smartphones. What bears watching is whether state lawmakers are willing to apply the upskirting standard in translating outrage into action when it comes to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children.
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