At DCF, fix-it focus hits some bumps

Fixing the queueing system that determines wait-times at the Registry of Motor Vehicles is one thing. Bringing order to the state social service agency charged with ensuring the safety of kids caught in the chaotic world of broken families, drug addiction, and abuse is another matter.

So it is that Gov. Charlie Baker found himself holding another State House briefing yesterday with leaders of the Department of Children and Families and the head of the union representing the social workers on the frontlines in the agency.

But unlike a forward-looking press briefing last fall, when Baker and Peter MacKinnon of SEIU 509 trumpeted a new intake system and other reforms being put in place to improve the agency, this one involved an initial look back at how those new systems are working. The short answer: Not so well.

“The training on this new policy has been inconsistent at best and inadequate at worst,” MacKinnon said, standing alongside the governor.

The changes to the DCF intake policy, which Baker heralded as the biggest in 20 years, were designed to ensure a clearer initial picture of a family’s situation at the start of state involvement. Among other things, the reforms got rid of a two-track system that had been faulted for initially classifying as low-risk some cases in which a child eventually died.

But MacKinnon said yesterday that some DCF managers “are having difficulty understanding and implementing the new policy,” and he described morale among social workers in the agency as the lowest he’s seen in his 18 years at DCF.

Though funding for DCF has been increased and Baker said 170 new staff members have been hired since last July, administration officials acknowledged that implementation of the new policies has not been without some bumps.

“We rolled out really fast,” Linda Spears, the DCF commissioner, said. “What that means is that we had training that was done very, very quickly in January and February. That also means we know we needed to go back to have more trainings as we go forward.”

Even as officials acknowledged problems with the roll out of reforms already adopted, they announced further changes yesterday, including getting social workers to focus on specific issues, such as mental illness and substance abuse, that may have brought a family under DCF’s purview to begin with.

DCF was probably always bound to be the biggest challenge for Baker’s preference for getting the basics of government to work right over talk of sweeping vision and grand new initiatives.

Give him credit at this point for sticking with it, and for apparently not trying to stage only feel-good events on developments at DCF. You have to face problems in order to fix them. So having the union president stand alongside the governor and offer candid criticism at least sends the right signal about the state’s willingness to confront the problems at DCF without blinders.

In signaling the need for that kind of honest reckoning, Baker almost seemed to be drawing on Ecclesiastes for some spiritual guidance. The job of “keeping kids safe” is an ongoing one that is probably never done, he said. “Which is why it depends so heavily on honest dialogue and conversation, and a willingness to recognize when there are times to push ahead and times to breathe and consider where we’ve been.”

–MICHAEL JONAS 

 

BEACON HILL

The Baker administration is changing eligibility standards for health coverage for poor people, a move that will save $60 million. (Masslive)

Rep. Bruce Ayers of Quincy, who has led the fight to ban texting while driving in Massachusetts, says efforts in other states to extend such a ban to texting while walking on city sidewalks goes too far. (Boston Herald)

Officials from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office meet with Lawrence residents who feel they have been treated unfairly in the workplace, by insurance companies, and in foreclosure proceeding. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Globe editorial comes out against legislation on Beacon Hill to require labeling of GMO foods.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Property owners in Barnstable County owe more than $35 million in back taxes including more than $22 million that has been delinquent for more than a year. (Cape Cod Times)

A section of the state’s supplemental budget would provide $2 million to relocate the Plymouth District Attorney’s office to downtown Brockton as well as bring about 25 state troopers from the State Police barracks in Middleboro. (The Enterprise)

The Southborough Zoning Board of Appeals has declined to withdraw waivers it granted to two controversial 40B housing developments despite a request by the Conservation Commission to allow it to review the plans. (MetroWest Daily News)

A proposal to site a Muslim cemetery in the Worcester County town of Dudley is meeting with strong resistance from residents, opposition that proponents say is heavily driven by anti-Muslim bias. (Boston Globe)

Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim wants to ban city-funded travel to North Carolina to protest the state’s recent enactment of a law banning transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that don’t match their biological gender. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The US Capitol building was in lockdown Monday after police shot a man who pulled a gun at a checkpoint. (U.S. News & World Report)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial praises the Obama administration for its Cashes Ledge decision.

ELECTIONS

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas slams US Rep. Seth Moulton for drawing analogies between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler and says there are a lot more “crazy uncles” out there who voted for Trump than the congressman thinks, including Lucas himself.

The New York Times editorial board is not too taken with Trump’s grasp of and views on foreign policy (to put it mildly).

Politico fact-checks Trump.

A survey of businesses in the state by Associated Industries of Massachusetts shows 62 percent oppose a ballot question to legalize marijuana, while 38 percent support it. (Boston Herald)

Gloria Steinem, at Smith College, addresses and apologizes for her comment that girls who support Bernie Sanders are just looking to hang out with boys. (Masslive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Joan Vennochi says the welcome wagon being rolled out for General Electric is starting to look a lot more like the corporate welfare wagon, with questions now about how much rent GE might pay on a new Seaport headquarters that the Boston Redevelopment Authority would buy and lease back to the company. (Boston Globe)

The FBI’s discovery of a way to unlock the iPhone belonging to a spree shooter in California without forcing Apple‘s assistance raises questions about the strength of security in the company’s devices. (New York Times)

A federal judge in Puerto Rico, which is reeling from an economic crisis and on the verge of bankruptcy, has ruled a tax imposed on Walmart‘s operations on the island is illegal. The company had claimed the tax would eat up 100 percent of its profits. (New York Times)

Self-driving cars are a hot topic right now in Massachusetts, but state officials are still trying to figure out what regulations are needed to keep the streets safe. (Masslive)

EDUCATION

Mayor Marty Walsh and Superintendent Tommy Chang pen a Globe op-ed addressing the budget woes facing  the Boston Public Schools.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School diversifies by attracting students from private schools. (WBUR)

CASINOS

Charles Lightbody, a reputed mobster charged with hiding a financial stake in land being used for the Wynn casino in Everett, wants to delay his trial because of the effects of chemotherapy he’s undergoing for lymphoma. (Boston Herald)

CHURCH/RELIGION

The Boston archdiocese settles claims with seven victims of clergy sexual abuse. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

While much of the attention paid to sports-related concussions has focused on the NFL, emails show NHL officials were concerned hockey fights could cause or exacerbate brain injuries yet did not move to eliminate fighting from the game. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA is eager to shift to a largely cashless fare system, in part to dump fare boxes on trolleys and buses that cost between $40,000 and $50,000 apiece. (CommonWealth)

James Aloisi says Massachusetts needs some Frank Sargent political courage in dealing with its transportation problems. (CommonWealth)

A planned ride-sharing business that would use all women drivers and only pick up female passengers would run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, say legal experts. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Fred Unger says solar isn’t the cause of high electricity costs; the real culprit is the outmoded utility business model. (CommonWealth) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Haverhill businessman Thomas Minichiello is sentenced to prison for kidnapping. (Eagle-Tribune)

A bill by Fall River state Rep. Alan Silvia would allow judges to require GPS bracelets on people charged with harassment. (Herald News) 

MEDIA

President Obama says media outlets must do better covering elected officials and candidates. (CNN) New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson says the Obama White House is the most secretive she’s ever covered. (Politico)