DCF deja vu

It is the story that seems to play on a endless repeat loop, with battered and neglected children at the center of it.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump released a scathing audit yesterday of the state’s Department of Children and Families, charging that the agency tasked with protecting vulnerable children was failing miserably at that job. We’ve heard this before.

“The children entrusted into DCF care are among the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth. This audit found that despite reforms, victimization of children in DCF’s care continues to occur unnoticed by the agency,” Bump said in a statement accompanying release of the audit.

The audit, which covered 2014 and 2015, said the agency often failed to report to law enforcement authorities sexual abuse of children under its supervision and its social workers did not always know when children under their watch had been badly hurt. The audit said it found 19 cases in which DCF did not report a rape, assault, or sexual abuse to prosecutors and 260 incidents in which the agency was not aware of a serious injury.

The challenge of ensuring the safety of the 50,000 children under its watch has bedeviled the department for decades, and it has become a grim ritual to see a report every few years on its shortcomings, followed by announced reforms aimed at correcting those holes in its systems.

Amidst the vast array of bureaucracies that must connect to keep kids safe, it seems always possible for another crack to emerge into which fall vulnerable children. That can also lead to a lot of finger-pointing and make it difficult to know where real fault lies. The latest audit is particularly conducive to a bit of finger-pointing, since the two years it covers span two different administrations — the last year of Deval Patrick’s time in office and Gov. Charlie Baker’s first year on the job.

The Baker administration quickly pointed that out. They also took issue with some of the findings, saying, for example, that the 19 cases that audit says were not reported to prosecutors were reported to local police.

But DCF was unaware of nearly half of the 137 cases of serious incidents involving children that occurred in the last four months of 2015 — after the Baker administration began a series of reform efforts and committed $100 million in additional funding to the agency. That overhaul was prompted by the death of two young children under DCF supervision, 4-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, whose body was found in April 2014, months after his disappearance, and 2-year-old Bella Bond, whose remains were found in a trash bag that washed up on Deer Island in June 2015.

The audit said DCF should use MassHealth data to identify when a child under its supervision has received medical care, something the agency said yesterday it will look into.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, whose department has hired more than 300 social workers since 2015 to bolster the capacity of DCF, said she was “disappointed that the auditor takes information from 2014 and 2015 and applies it today.”

It may be wrong to say that the findings describe the state of things today, but there is no way to evaluate properly anything but past performance. No one doubts Sudders’ strong commitment to getting things right on behalf of kids. The best scenario at this point would be a follow-up audit of 2016 and 2017 that paints a very different picture.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office says it has been contacted in relation to the sexual assault allegations against Bryon Hefner, husband of Sen. Stan Rosenberg, but did not divulge how many people may have contacted the office or whether they are alleged victims or witnesses. (Boston Herald)

The Boston Globe is reporting this morning that former state senator Brian Joyce was arrested this morning and has been indicted on more than 100 federal charges. The paper previously reported that a federal grand jury was investigating whether he used his position for personal gain.

Massachusetts has spent more than $20.6 million over the last five years responding to scandals at two state drug labs. (MassLive)

State Rep. David Linsky of Natick, a vocal advocate for gun control, said he will lead the fight to protect Massachusetts laws against a bill passed by the US House that would allow anyone with a concealed weapon permit to carry their gun in any state. (MetroWest Daily News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

An attorney representing Lawrence tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the city is in compliance with a federal law requiring cooperation with immigration officials. Sessions has been threatening to terminate federal grant funding to municipalities that refuse to cooperate. (Eagle-Tribune)

Worcester apparently is still putting its pitch for the Pawtucket Red Sox and should be finished soon. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

If we’re setting a standard of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault by political leaders, shouldn’t President Trump resign? (Boston Herald)

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who was lauded by progressive activists in her home state for her stand against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is being harshly criticized now for her vote in favor of the Republican tax cut legislation. (Boston Globe)

Rep. Joseph Kennedy says he’s sticking with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. (Boston Herald)

On the sexual harassment front: New York City ballet chief Peter Martins steps down amid allegations (Associated Press); Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks resigns after discussing surrogacy with two female staffers (Time); director Bryan Singer was sued for allegedly raping a 17-year-old in 2003, a charge he denied (People).

Keller@Large sifts through the CBS poll on the tax cut and finds buried a question on so-called “dreamers” — children brought here by their immigrant parents —  that has wide bipartisan support to restore DACA.

ELECTIONS

Gov. Charlie Baker may have denounced Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, but he is nonetheless continuing to raise money that is “helping the accused sexual predator,” writes the Globe’s Frank Phillips, who outlines how 40 percent of the money raised by a joint Mass. GOP-Republican National Committee fundraising operation Baker directs goes to the RNC and its efforts to boost candidates nationally, including Moore.

Michael Graham is in full froth against what he says is a Republican Party that is going from the Stupid Party to the Crazy One with Steve Bannon’s amoral rallying of the base against MItt Romney and for Roy Moore, “aka the Alabama Ass-Grabber, the Tuscaloosa Teen Toucher, the Bible-Thumping Baby-Sitter Bopper from Birmingham.” (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Attorney General Maura Healey asked the state appeals court for more time for its investigation of the Berkshire Museum’s planned sale of artwork. (Berkshire Eagle)

After 15 years of delays, the Fenway Center development project above the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston is about to actually begin. (Boston Globe)

Silicon Valley businesses are hiring attractive models to attend their holiday parties. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

EDUCATION

A METCO student organizes a walkout by about 100 students at Marblehead High School over the handling of alleged racial incidents at the school. (Salem News)

Cambridge College of Boston and Northern Essex Community College formed a partnership that allows students at the community college to move seamlessly on to Cambridge College to earn a bachelor’s degree. Cambridge College opened a branch in Lawrence in 2003. (Eagle-Tribune)

Students and parents in East Bridgewater were anxious after several students contracted the antibiotic-resistant, super-bacteria MRSA at the junior-senior high school and officials tried to assure the community they cleaned the school overnight. (The Enterprise)

The Massachusetts School Building Authority indicates it will still help financially with the construction of a new high school in Lowell, despite the confusion over where it would be built. Voters opted for a downtown rebuild last month. (Lowell Sun)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

In the face of heavy criticism from health professionals and Attorney General Maura Healey that it is ineffective and potentially even damaging, the Boston US attorney’s office is pulling a controversial ad from MBTA locations that attempts to frighten people away from opioid use by picturing a newborn hooked to a IV and feeding tube that the picture says represents a baby born with addiction. (Boston Herald)

The wonder drug Viagra will be available in generic form beginning Monday and manufacturer Pfizer will slash the $65 per pill cost in half. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA director of parking, who resigned last week, left behind a 30-page statement that paints a very negative portrait of the agency’s oversight of the contractor overseeing its garages and lots. (CommonWealth)

State Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton said several towns are considering his suggestion to file suit against the state over rerouting the proposed South Coast Rail through Middleboro rather than Stoughton. (Standard-Times)

The MBTA pushed back the planned 20-month closing of the Wollaston Red Line station by a week and announced riders can take the commuter rail from Quincy Center for the price of a subway ride. (Patriot Ledger)

Robin Hayes, the president and CEO of JetBlue, came to Worcester to announce that flights to New York City will start May 3. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The GOP tax bill could hinder progress in developing sustainable energy as it scales back incentives for wind and solar power development while boosting gas and oil production. (New York Times)

The Department of Public Utilities has approved a plan by Eversource to build large energy storage facilities on the outer Cape and Martha’s Vineyard as part of the state’s goal to create 200 megawatts in energy storage capacity by 2020. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Worcester store owner from Ghana pleaded guilty to processing $282,000 in fraudulent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. The woman allegedly paid 50 cents for every SNAP dollar and then recovered the full benefit from the Department of Agriculture. (MassLive)

Plans to cut back operations at the Brockton Housing Court to two days a week were put on hold after local officials and legislators protested to state administrators that the closure would be a hardship on area residents who couldn’t travel to other courts. (The Enterprise)

MEDIA

Local investigative news outlets discover wealthy patrons are willing to back them. (Columbia Journalism Review)

The Worcester Sun, started as an online news site by two former GateHouse employees, is launching a weekend print edition that will be mailed free to paid digital subscribers and sold for $2 to non-subscribers. (Media Nation)