Auditor: DCF Missed Serious Injuries To Kids

Lester Mason
December 8, 2017

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families failed to adequately track and report injuries and abuse of children who were under DCF supervision, a state audit released on Thursday found.

"Bump's report also noted that "[of] the 73 fatality investigations performed by DCF during our audit period, none was completed and submitted to [Office of the Child Advocate] within the established 30- or 60-day timeframe".

"If they don't know about them they can't act on them", Bump said at a news conference.

"The information in this audit is not current as it began four years ago during the prior administration, and the Baker-Polito Administration began implementing a comprehensive overhaul of DCF reforms in 2015 to support the Commonwealth's most vulnerable children".

Bump's audit also identified 118 incidents of sexual abuse of a child in DCF care that were not reported to the Office of the Child Advocate, the department's oversight agency, and 19 incidents of abuse and neglect that "were not formally reported to and received by district attorneys". DCF's budget grew by $100 million, and it said more than 300 case workers and 96 managers were hired.

Comparing medical records with two years of data from the Department of Children and Families, auditors found 260 serious injuries to children that caseworkers were unaware of, according to Auditor Suzanne Bump, who spoke with WBZ-TV. Prosecutors told auditors they would have investigated those cases had they known of them at the time.

In detailed responses to the audit's findings, DCF officials acknowledged some shortcomings, and said that, since September 2015, they have been "engaged in significant system-wide reforms that are fundamentally changing the way we do our work".

In the last four months of 2015, after the agency's reform efforts began, auditors found that social workers were unaware of almost half of the 137 serious incidents involving children in DCF care, including an attempted suicide, physical assaults, and broken bones. Children in DCF care who have been removed from their homes are enrolled in MassHealth, and DCF has access to claims data for these children but is not now using this information to identify serious medical incidents. "DCF regularly conducts trainings for mandated reporters across the state and offers online trainings developed by local District Attorneys to encourage reporting for any instance of suspected abuse or neglect among children".

Bump's audit highlights a few of the serious injuries to children in DCF's care: a 15-year-old with brain damage from a gunshot wound; a 1-year-old with serious burns on multiple body parts; and a 12-year-old with multiple head contusions that were determined by a doctor to be caused by an assault.

The auditors were able to find out about the injuries by cross-checking the children's names against records at the state MassHealth program, which provides insurance for low income people.

Sudders said every alleged sexual assault is considered a "serious incident"; the allegations are investigated by the department and referred to law enforcement for investigation and prosecution. The audit recommended that DCF use the MassHealth data to identify when children are receiving medical care so they can identify situations without needing to rely on others to report the medical incidents.

Whitney Dow Ferguson, from DeLeo's office, said: "Speaker DeLeo is incredibly upset and troubled by the Auditor's DCF report". He said his office has reached out to the Office of the Child Advocate "to consider next steps".

"Without proper reporting by DCF, the Office of Child Advocate can not perform its oversight function to ensure that children receiving DCF services are appropriately cared for", the audit says.

They said the reporting process to the Office of the Child Advocate "needs to be simplified and streamlined", with more reasonable deadlines.

Bump called a policy in which the state's independent Office of the Child Advocate excludes possible cases of sexual abuse if they don't result in physical injury "incomprehensible".

DCF officials said in their audit response that claims data would be "likely several months old by the time it might be available to DCF, any process will serve as an "after-the-fact" quality indicator".

The new policy ensures a written record of referral to a district attorney will go in each child's record, she said.

"DCF's response to our audit findings demonstrates they have yet to recognize this", she said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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