Gov. Baker Sets Out Initiatives to Reform Massachusetts DCF

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker presented a reform of the Department of Children and Families on Monday. The reform highlighted a series of steps being taken in an effort to fix the immense issues that have been plaguing the department in recent years. Following the death and serious injury of several children under DCF care, there have been multiple calls for reform to the struggling department. Governor Baker had been facing immense scrutiny for his perceived lack of initiative in beginning the reform. But the new policy announcement that took place today has shown that Governor Baker has been anything but complacent.

Governor Baker has stated in the past that he believed that the Department of Children and Families had “fundamental issues” that needed to be fixed in an accelerated manner. Just recently he began this improvement by naming Linda Spears the new DCF commissioner. Once Spears was hired for the position in February of 2015, she immediately went to action issuing reforms for the various fragmented pieces of the department. One of the main reforms she began to instate was the call for additional CORI checks for potential and existing foster families. The new policies outlined by Spears also included photo documentation for children, as well as updated guidelines for social workers visiting families involved with the department.

The new reform taking place has provided specific steps that have one main objective in mind, in the words of Governor Baker himself: “…to keep kids safe.” Too many tragedies have befallen the young children under DCF care, and the reform presented on Monday will help combat these tragedies from occurring yet again. Governor Baker’s presentation included six clear initiatives that will help keep the focus on the children.

The first of these initiatives included in the reform calls for the intake policy to be updated for the first time in approximately 10 years. Governor Baker stated that “This is the front door for DCF, regarding every abuse and neglect allegation.” The updated intake policy, which is primarily responsible for reviewing accusations of abuse and neglect to children, will include a standardized tool that will aid assessment in determining whether or not a child is at risk in their environment. The new assessment tool will require CORI checks for each case, as well as a review of the family members’ history with the Department of Children and Families. The new policy will also include reviewing the number and nature of emergency calls placed from the home.

The second initiative includes a new policy that will require updated supervision procedures. The original policy put into place has not been implemented in several years, according to reports. The updated supervision policy will outline specific rules and guidelines for workers in an effort to make them more aware of when a situation needs higher attention. As of the current moment, workers do not have specified lists that allow them to properly assess whether or not a situation regards further attention from those higher up in the department. The updated procedures will be actively put into place by mid-November.

The third initiative proposed by Governor Baker will help to bring an influx of social workers to the department—where there are currently an overwhelming amount of caseloads per each worker in their system. The ratio is approximately 27 cases per 1 single worker. In Governor Baker’s reform however, there will be a sustained effort to recruit social workers and maintain them within the department. This increase in workers will hopefully bring a decrease in caseloads, where each worker will now be facing approximately 18 cases instead of the 27 they struggle with now.

The fourth initiative in the presentation relates to an active desk review for DCF cases that are facing multiple allegations of abuse or neglect. The Department of Children and Families will no work more closely to focus their attentions on the stability and well-being of the children involved in their specific cases. These updated reviews will be done by the end of October, according to the statement provided today.

The fifth initiative involved in the DCF overhaul involves re-opening a branch of the department that previously closed down in 2009. The Central Massachusetts location for the DCF has been closed since that time. Governor Baker feels as though opening that location again by the end of the year will help relieve the immense caseloads given to the Western Massachusetts location which is currently the busiest branch of the organization.

The sixth and final initiative in the reform proposed by Governor Baker is to have a massive review of the backlog of applications submitted to the DCF by foster families. This review will help pinpoint foster families that will work alongside DCF in order to provide the best care for the children who are in need of it.

Additional reforms have been implemented and should be completed by the end of March in 2016. These reforms will include updated policies for cases that are currently in the system already, as well as foster home integration. Also included in the newly proposed Baker reform to DCF—the first-time hiring for a medical director. The newly created position will allow the medical director to review information in an effort to “improve quality and consistency” of the cases involved with DCF.


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