Massachusetts DCF Under Fire – “Crisis Level Caseload” to Blame?

The Department of Children and Families has been facing an immense amount of scrutiny following a growing number of failures at the hands of their employees. The death of two children under their watch, accompanied by the resulting coma one child is facing following further failure, has placed the organization under a microscope in recent times. The system has been facing excessive difficulties in Western Massachusetts during the past two years which has individuals calling for a strict reform of the department in order to ensure safety for all the children in its care. Due to the rapidly increasing number of children being placed under DCF custody however, this reform may take longer than anticipated.

According to reports, there are currently close to 27,000 opens cases in the Department of Children and Families sweeping across the state. The western area of Massachusetts is bearing the brunt of this with approximately 40% of the open cases located in the Western region. Two children who died despite being under watch of the DCF were also housed in Western Massachusetts—prompting further cries of frustration from those on the outside looking in.

Jeremiah Oliver, a young boy from Fitchburg, was reported missing from his home for months before his body was discovered on the side of the road not far from his home. Avalena Conway-Coxon, a two year old girl placed into foster care in Auburn, Massachusetts was found dead inside the home after her foster mother called police to report that the child was unresponsive. Another young girl was taken from the home the same day and is still listed in dire condition. Seven year old Jack Loiselle was living with his father and was taken from his home severely dehydrated and malnourished with burns to his hands and feet—he still remains in a coma a month later. All of these children had a common thread tying them together: they had all been under the care of the Department of Children and Families, and they all suffered greatly despite this fact. Jack Loiselle received a visit from DCF just weeks before his admittance to the hospital—and the caseworker assigned to this visit apparently did not find anything alarming while they were there. Jack Loiselle weighed just 38 pounds when he was taken from his home.

According to reports, most of the caseworkers for the Department of Children and Families have reached a “crisis-level caseload” with each individual worker becoming responsible for 20 different cases of children under DCF care. The number of cases is continuing to grow even though the DCF is not adequately prepared. The caseload numbers coupled with the lack of social workers—or social workers who have been properly certified to handle these cases—is alarming. Children are falling through the cracks and facing greater risks to their safety because those responsible for them are unable to provide the care the children desperately need. The Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, Marylou Sudders, has stated that: “We are in a continuous hiring of social workers. I look forward to the day when there are too many social workers in the Department of Children and Families.” She went on to say that the Western region accounts for over half of the state but that their staff only increased by 20% in the last two years. The number of cases is simply going to outweigh the number of caseworkers.

Governor Charlie Baker has been working closely with the Department of Children and Families in order to gain answers for the families of the young victims who have suffered due to the DCF’s perceived failures. Governor Baker was forced to admit that no one really has an understanding of what happened to allow Jack Loiselle to reach the state that he’s currently in. Questions continue to arise but so few answers are to be found. One advocate for the Department of Children and Families has said that they must receive more funding and an improvement to their management system in order to ensure that these tragedies no longer take place. How long that will take to come to fruition, however, remains to be seen.



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