SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

February 28, 2014

Our view: Technology upgrade is part of solution to state's child welfare woes

It’s hardly encouraging to hear the state’s Early Education and Care commissioner suggest that the effectiveness of the system he heads suffers from the same technological obstacles that make it difficult for social workers within the embattled Department of Children and Families (DCF) to work with “real-time” information.

Yet, that is a claim of Tom Weber, who heads the early Education and Care program and made those remarks earlier this week in response to a report from a special state commission.

Noting that the technology systems utilized by DCF and Early Education are legacy systems — some more than 10 years old — Weber told the State House News Service that, while his department has a lot of data about providers and licensees who serve infants, toddlers and preschoolers, the agency’s field staffers often need to return to their office computers to obtain it or enter data on paper forms.

“We need to be really taking advantage of mobile devices,” he said — and he makes a valid point.

But neither he nor other state officials — up to and including Gov. Deval Patrick — can really believe that upgrading the state’s technology systems will be the key to resolving DCF’s and other early-childhood shortcomings, can they?

A 2013 Child Care Aware report ranked Massachusetts as second in the nation for child care program standards, but 48th for program oversight. That shows a bureaucracy that needs wholesale changes in focus and format, not just more staff and a computer system upgrade.

And amid all the rhetoric, let’s not forget the tragic case that launched all of this — the disappearance and feared death of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, who had been under DCF supervision, or lack thereof, in Fitchburg. The child’s mother, Elsa Oliver, and her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra Jr., stand accused of child endangerment.

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