Audit: Many injuries unreported by Massachusetts' child welfare agency

Remigio Civitarese
Dicembre 8, 2017

A scathing report from the state auditor finds the MA child welfare agency failed to report crimes against children to police. The report also said there were 118 incidents of child sexual abuse that weren't reported to the Office of the Child Advocate, a state watchdog agency.

It alleges the Department of Children and Families was unaware of 260 incidents, including a teenager who suffered brain damage from a gunshot wound, a 1-year-old child who had first- or second-degree burns and a 12-year-old with multiple head contusions due to assault.

"So perhaps it was accurate at one time but it is nearly four years since the beginning of that audit and it does not reflect the changes", Sudders said. In one case, a male who had sexually abused one child abused the child's sibling less than one year later. The agency has also hired additional caseworkers and seen its budget increase by $100 million. "It defies logic", Bump said. "I do appreciate that steps have been taken that have been beneficial to the office, clearly".

"We agree with Auditor Bump that DCF must be constantly and rigorously evaluated to ensure the safety of the children in its care, and the safety of the workers that provide that care", said Peter MacKinnon, president of SEIU Local 509. "That too is a failing".

"How can the agency not consider sexual abuse a serious injury to a child?"

The audit also found that the DCF was not categorizing incidents involving sexual abuse as critical incidents. Sudders called them the "ears and eyes" in the community and the department can't do its work without them.

The audit recommends that in the future, DCF use MassHealth data to help identify incidents of serious bodily injury to children in its care. "This audit found that despite reforms, victimization of children in DCF's care continues to occur unnoticed by the agency".

According to the department, they're seeking to streamline the child fatality reporting process as a way to get more timely reports to the Office of the Child Advocate.

During a press conference Thursday, Bump told reporters her office did not measure the results of those reforms and "can't make that sort of judgment" when it comes to whether the changes have corrected problems detailed in the audit.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, described the legislative leader as "incredibly upset and troubled" by Bump's report.

"The children entrusted into DCF care are among the most vulnerable residents of the Commonwealth", Bump said in a statement. He said his office has reached out to the Office of the Child Advocate "to consider next steps".

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