An Open Letter to DCF Commissioner Olga Roche
Commissioner Olga Roche Mass. Department of Children & Families 600 Washington Street Boston, MA 02111 Commissioner Roche: We write to express our concerns for the safety and well-being of children engaged with the Department of Children & Families. As you know, the number one priority of front-line social workers, investigators and supervisors at DCF is keeping children safe from abuse and neglect. We do this work because we care deeply about helping the most vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth, and we all share the same goal of improving case practices to ensure the Department’s mission is upheld to the fullest extent possible. That is why we have pushed so aggressively to identify and address systemic challenges that have long been barriers to success at DCF -- including crisis-level caseloads and outdated technology. While notable progress has been made in the allotment of resources for new hires and technology upgrades, a host of serious concerns persist at the Department of Children & Families. If left unaddressed, these systemic challenges will continue to adversely impact front-line workers’ ability to keep at-risk children safe.
Our colleagues have serious concerns that some of the recent directives originating from your office -- and implemented by area managers -- may have the exact opposite effect of what is intended. These directives have been put into practice without sufficient resources, communication or coordination -- a process that may actually put children at greater risk. Those of us on the front lines are concerned that new directives are issued almost daily, that these directives rarely come in writing, and that individual managers often choose to interpret and implement the directives however they see fit. This has resulted in disjointed, inconsistent and often misguided implementation of policies intended to keep children safe.
We are concerned that these directives have forced a swift and dramatic spike in caseloads that is unsafe and unsustainable -- even with new budget allotments for staffing. Universal screen-in policies have prompted a startling number of new investigations, with or without supporting evidence. Ongoing cases now remain open significantly longer than on-the-ground realities warrant. Short-term Stabilization cases are being placed on the back burner as staff are shifted around to handle the influx, leaving at-risk families without access to vital services. National standards clearly state that a single social worker can handle no more than 15 cases safely. Should these directives remain in place as-is, the Department will have no hope of reducing caseloads to safe, manageable levels without even greater investments in staffing.
We are concerned that the DCF management team seems to care more about statistics than the actual quality of services. Local managers appear to only care if and when a child has been seen -- without regard to the level of engagement with that child or what information could be gathered from the interaction. This has led to the kind of ‘drive-by social work’ that could place children at risk.
We are concerned that screening procedures focused solely on children under age six could lead to missed red flags involving older children. Caseworkers firmly believe that all children deserve the level of attention needed to ensure their safety. With such a significant amount of time and effort devoted to young children alone, we may realize unintended consequences in the future. We are concerned that the Commissioner’s Office does not know or understand what is really going on in the field. Communication between your office and local management has been ineffective, at best. Local managers, in turn, often issue orders without regard to either your directives or the expertise of front-line social workers.
We are concerned that morale amongst front-line DCF workers is at it’s lowest point in recent memory. The ever-changing demands of local managers in the wake of recent tragedies has combined with existing staffing shortfalls, rising caseloads and antiquated technology to create a work environment that can only be described as toxic. This unprecedented amount of pressure has left many front-line workers worried about who among us will be the next to quit or be terminated -- an obvious and unsafe distraction from our core child protection work.
Above all else, we are concerned that front-line workers do not have the tools or resources needed to effectively protect at-risk children. From 15-year-old technology to an ever-rising number of cases, social workers are increasingly expected to do more with less -- unacceptable demands for work that involves the safety of children. Again, some initial relief has been seen in specific offices, but the overall technology deficiencies and increases in workload are unmanageable, and could lead to critical information or observations falling through the cracks. Front-line social workers must see real, immediate action to address these concerns and restore confidence in management at the Department of Children & Families. We need to re-examine the impact of new directives in the wake of continued staffing shortages. We need any and all directives to be issued in writing to ensure uniform implementation at the local level. We need open lines of communication between staff in the field and the Central Office -- including personal visits from you, as Commissioner of the Department and the Secretary of Health & Human Services. We need an overhaul of our outdated technology, including both software and hardware upgrades. And, most of all, we immediately need additional boots on the ground to alleviate the caseload crisis.
Many of these challenges are longstanding issues that pre-date this Administration, and the necessary reforms and investments may not come easily. But it is now up to you and your management team to ensure front-line social workers have the tools, policies and resources we need to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. We can all agree that at-risk families throughout this Commonwealth deserve nothing less. Signed,
Peter MacKinnon Chapter President
Ethel Everett Anthony Labo Joseph Manna Adriana Zwick Western Region VP Northeast Region VP Central Region VP Metro Region VP 1. _________________________________________________ _________________________________________________
Robert Bullock Boston Region VP
Julie Cardoza-Pietruszka Southeast Region VP
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