#MAGOV : RESTRUCTURING THE MASSACHUSETTS DCF

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^ Commissioner Olga Roche : not to blame for DCF budget cuts and out of date agency practices

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The six major candidates seeking to be our State’s next Governor sure didn’t plan to have the department of families and Children (DCF) as a huge campaign issue, but that’s what it now is. The facts emerging from the DCF’s failed oversight of 5-year old Jeremiah Oliver cry out. Oliver’s social worker missed several mandated visits to his home but put “visit made’ into her case log; and her supervisor confirmed that the visits were made. When Oliver disappeared –months later, he has yet to be found — the failure and cover up left the DCF’s higher-ups nowhere to hide.

Yet are the DCF top guns to blame ? How was the agency;s head, Olga Roche, to know that a social worker and supervisor in the Fitchburg DCF office had falsified logs and failed their jobs ? Roche can’t personally micro-manage every employee in every DCF office. At some point we have to grasp that this DCF failure is structural and to propose serious reform. Nor can we blame Governor Patrick much. His plate has been heaped with major spending fights in transportation and education and with monitoring the contentious casino licensing process as it works through the gaming Commission. Line Departments like DCF and Public welfare, governed by State Law chapter 119, require oversight by the Governor’s secretary of administration and finance; and to my knowledge, no one has suggested that Glen Shor has misfired his oversight of the DCF. Nonetheless, one notes that in his job description as posted on his page at http://www.mass.gov, Shor doesn’t list DCF in his itemization of key responsibilities:

“Glen Shor serves as Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. He is responsible for managing state finances, including preparation of the governor’s budget recommendation, development of a state capital budget, managing budgetary activities across state government, and developing long-term fiscal policy. He also oversees the state agencies that provide core administrative services in the Commonwealth, including the collection of state taxes, the administration of IT services and the management of human resources in state government.

“Prior to his appointment as Secretary in January of 2013, Glen Shor served as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority. While at the Connector, Shor oversaw the programs, policies, operations and staff of the Commonwealth’s official public health insurance Exchange – a cornerstone of the state’s historic health care reform law of 2006 and the model for health insurance Exchanges nationwide under the landmark federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

No one can doubt that collection of taxes and administration of information technology are crucial state governance tasks; or that management of “human resources” — state employees — is a non-stop matter that can make stinky headlines if a day of monitoring goes missing. Still…

…here we are, with a scandal and anecdotal talk of many other missed visits by social workers and slack oversight by DCF managers, and the blame machine is already whipping up pies to the face of DCF’s higher-ups. I find the furor misdirected.

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^ DCF failures will surely be discussed at a social workers’ conference at Boston College on February 24th that has Charlie Baker as its featured speaker. (See UPDATE below)

Has anyone bothered to notice that, since 2009, the DC budget has fallen by 100 million dollars ? this, during years when our State’s population of homeless and of families in need has increased mightily.

If we want to make events like the Jeremiah Oliver failures less common, we need to restore the 100 million dollars cut from the DC budget — the Governor’s $ 9.2 million budget increase hardly matters ! The DCF needs to monitor social worker visits not in log books but via the internet; to install check-in software in social workers’ cell phones, so that managers know where they are during work hours; to give DCF managers software and smart phones, fully applicationed, so that case loads can be managed, on an ongoing basis, in real time. We need to reset DCF process so that Olga Roche — or whoever succeeds her as DCF commissioner — has on her schedule an in-person meeting at each DCF area office on a revolving basis, with Roche on the road, like a Circuit Judge making rounds, managing the entire DCF not from an office in a Boston State administration building but from an iPad in a state car serving as her mobile headquarters.

Political campaigns operate that way in this year 2014. Why not State governance ?

It’s more important that Roche have a state car and a driver than that she have a large office in a state building. It’s more effective that she hold monitoring sessions — including questions and answers and monitoring reviews — at each local DCF office than that she await reports coming to her from the managers of those offices. After all, social workers have to visit the children whose cases are theirs to oversee. Why shouldn’t Roche, or her successor, do likewise ? DCF is an agency that operates by visits. This should be its strategy top to bottom, bottom to top.

It will be interesting to hear and read the DCF reform plans that each of the major Governor candidates presents to the voters. If they do present one.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Roche is reportedly slated to receive a $ 10,500.00 pay raise.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 02/17/14 10.30 AM : Charlie Baker, the likely Republican nominee for Governor, has called for Olga Roche’s resignation. Many — but not all — GOP legislators have also made this call. To me it seems a bit premature and quite misdirected; but perhaps Baker will explain.

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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