, Salem, MA

March 28, 2014

Our view: Patrick's pique won't cure what ails DCF

The Salem News

---- — Faced with mounting criticism over his Department of Children and Families, Gov. Deval Patrick is putting on a display of personal pique, denial and condescension the likes of which we haven’t seen from a Massachusetts governor since the days of Michael Dukakis and the scandal over his Department of Correction and its prison furlough program.

That was more than 25 years ago.

Patrick sounded more than a little like Dukakis as he addressed a gathering of hundreds of “social workers and social-work students” Tuesday at the Statehouse, according to the State House News Service.

He told them they should get raises and more money and staff to do their jobs.

He also told them, in effect, that their critics are too simple-minded to understand what they do.

“You do the Lord’s work ... mental health, substance abuse issues. You’ve got a scourge of opiate use and abuse ... domestic violence, poverty,” Patrick told them, according to the State House News Service.

Patrick made it plain that those who dare question him and those who do the Lord’s work have gotten under his skin.

“And, frankly, a public that doesn’t understand the complexities of the population you serve, who look for simple answers; who look for short and quick answers; who look for a kind of a once over, easy, put-it back-in-the-box because it’s ugly and unattractive and complicated and difficult.”

You want to talk ugly, governor?

Let’s talk about the case of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg. Last December, his 7-year-old sister told school officials he was missing. It soon emerged his social worker hadn’t bothered to check in on him for months.

He is now feared dead.

Now that’s ugly, Gov. Patrick, far uglier than anything that’s been said about DCF.

Twenty-four members of the state House of Representatives, and Charlie Baker, the Republican candidate for governor, have called for the resignation of DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and a top-down shake-up of DCF management..

Patrick has stood by Roche, much as Dukakis stood by his embattled correction commissioner in the aftermath of the Willie Horton furlough scandal.

Yesterday, state auditor Suzanne Bump released a report that suggested perhaps Patrick is the one who is looking for “simple answers ... short and quick answers” — like throwing more money at the DCF problems — rather than “complicated and difficult” solutions.

Bump’s report said “significant management deficiencies” led to poor oversight of foster homes and the treatment of children in state custody. In Salem, a 3-year-old under DCF supervision was found to be living in the same building with a Level 3 sex offender who had been convicted of child rape.

“DCF does indeed work miracles on a daily basis,” Bump said at a press conference, according to the State House News Service. “It is, however, an agency whose frontline workers and managers need better guidance” and tools to do their jobs.

We don’t disagree. Most social workers really do strive to work miracles in the face of long odds, and they need more support.

But Patrick’s denial of clear management problems does not help.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester had it right when he said Bump’s audit “reconfirms the risks posed to vulnerable children” because of problems with the management of the Department of Children and Families.

“Now, more than ever, it is clear that reforming this agency needs to be a priority for the Legislature and the administration, and the job needs to be done in a timely and effective way,” Tarr said.