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 latest case involves the death of a month-old infant in Grafton more than a week after Grafton police had faxed a so-called 51A report – a mandatory filing of suspected child abuse or neglect – to the local DCF office after responding to reports of a crying baby and seeing the mother in a disoriented state. The report was faxed on April 3 but was misplaced by the agency for a week and then assigned to a DCF worker on April 10. The worker, however, did not return from vacation until the following day. The case was not marked urgent, which would have required immediate investigation, and the day the worker returned was the same day the child, Aliana Lavigne, died.

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.”

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

The state lottery’s new $30 scratch ticket is proving popular, even as the head of the state compulsive gambling office says it’s a surefire way to increase her agency’s caseload.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan and firefighter union officials have found some room for compromise on a contract that would reduce the number of layoffs in the department in exchange for firefighters taking a pay cut.

Jay Jackson is suing the city of Lawrence, alleging he was fired by Mayor Daniel Rivera from his police job for testifying against Melix Bonilla, the former deputy police chief, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Hingham voters overwhelmingly approved funds to continue the town’s suit against the private operator of the water system. The town is trying to force the company to set a price for buying the system with the goal of making it a municipally run operation.

Cohasset voters approved a bylaw allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the commercial district on Route 3A.

Kenneth Martin, the director of the Methuen Housing Authority, retires in the next few weeks and will be eligible for a $150,000-a-year annual pension, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

CASINOS

Lynn signs a surrounding community agreement with Mohegan Sun, which is proposing a casino in Revere. The agreement calls for the city to receive mitigation payments of $350,000 a year, the Item reports. Wynn Resorts, meanwhile, signs agreements with Cambridge, Medford, Lynn, and Melrose.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The FBI takes US Rep. Michael Grimm of New York into custody on fraud and perjury charges, ABC News reports.

Sarah Palin gets criticism from the right and the left for her comments equating waterboarding with baptism.

A North Carolina church group sues to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

ELECTIONS

Carlos Henriquez’s plans to run for his old House seat are apparently derailed after his release from jail is delayed. Henriquez was imprisoned and expelled from the House after being convicted of assault and battery against a girlfriend, CommonWealth reports.

Richard Tisei, a gay Republican running for Congress, is fundraising with a conservative New Hampshire Republican who opposes gay marriage, the Gloucester Times reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The state Environmental Police distributed 500 pounds of confiscated fish to New Bedford programs servicing the hungry. The flounder catch was turned over by a commercial boat owner who returned to port the day after the federally imposed catch limit dropped from 500 pounds to 100 pounds.

Netflix signs a streaming traffic deal with Verizon just months after reaching a similar agreement with Comcast, CNET reports.

A survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds that nonprofits that lack women in their top spots are missing donations by women and harming their missions.

Marty Walsh works the phones to drum up participation by Boston companies in the city’s summer jobs program for youth.

EDUCATION

A new study says the nation is on pace to graduate a record level of high school students — more than 90 percent — by the year 2020 but the report says some groups such as special needs, low income, and minorities still lag behind.

Tufts University and the US Department of Education are at odds over the university’s handling of sexual assault cases.

A Texas initiative to reduce the number of standardized tests students take doesn’t appear to be working as intended, Governing reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Jim Braude interviews Beverly Scott, the MBTA general manager, on NECN’s Broadside.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The owners of a Somerset power plant slated to close in 2017 deny charges that the move is an effort to manipulate the market and reap millions in added profits from other plants it owns. Last fall, CommonWealth probed the debate over the future of the coal-fired plant.

Canada plans to install wi-fi in several of its national parks, Time reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Brockton father of a convicted child rapist is on trial for the same charges, which came to light during his son’s trial.

A 14-year-old Mattapan boy faces manslaughter charges in the February shooting death of his 9-year-old brother.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

MEDIA

Newspaper print ad revenues are the lowest they’ve been since 1950, wh the industry first began tracking them. The revenues dropped 50 percent in the last five years, Slate reports.