Giving up the battle at DCF
As Howie Carr constantly points out, you know someone is on their way out once they start being described as “embattled.” And it was hard to find anyone in the state more embattled than Olga Roche, the now-former embattled head of the embattled Department of Children and Families.
Unfortunately, there’s no humor in Roche’s predicament because her embattled state was the result of children dying on DCF’s watch. Though it appeared that Roche was going to weather the storm after the first revelations of children deaths and DCF screw-ups, that ended this morning with the announcement that Gov. Deval Patrick accepted her resignation and replaced her with Erin Deveney, a DCF staffer, as acting commissioner.
The writing was on the wall yesterday for Roche after Patrick, her biggest defender, admitted things aren’t looking good for his child protection agency.The calls for Roche’s ouster grew dramatically on Monday. Both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, as well as Attorney General Martha Coakley, joined the chorus, which includes most of the gubernatorial candidates.
“Quite frankly, I’m angered, I’m very much angered to see this continuing to happen,” a visibly shaken DeLeo told reporters.. “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.”
The reports about Aliana’s death came at the same time that a 16-day-old Fitchburg girl died the day after her family missed a scheduled visit with DCF. And all this is occurring against the backdrop of the case of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, whose body was found April 18, months after his disappearance sparked the current focus on DCF. All three deaths are under investigation by the Worcester District Attorney’s office.
DCF officials have tried to deflect some of the responsibility back on Grafton police for not following up on the faxed report with a phone call. Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau Jr., was incensed, saying while he may require phone call follow-ups in the future, his officers did everything by the book and everything they were required to do and more. Crepeau points out that DCF does not man its emergency line 24 hours a day so there’s no guarantee a call would have been the more productive route. Besides, DCF is acknowledging they did receive the fax; they just lost it for a week.
That piece alone may identify the core of the problem. In an electronic world of instant communication, DCF relies on fax machines rather than available modern technology. It would cost money to upgrade the technology and, so far, the state has not been willing to increase the department’s budget significantly.
Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz sounded like he laid most of the blame at Roche’s feet. “The vast majority of the time, DCF gets it right,” Polanowicz said this morning as he announced Roche’s resignation. “I believe it is not possible for the agency to move forward with her at the helm.”
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