Following the release of a scathing audit of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, several lawmakers called for their own review on Beacon Hill.
"We need to get to the bottom of what's going on," said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
As a member of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, Farley-Bouvier says she and other lawmakers are already planning to schedule an oversight hearing to discuss the issues with DCF.
"When you see a report like this it leads to more questions," Farley-Bouvier explained. "The Department of Children and Families is not in a position to police itself."
The audit, released Thursday, found that the agency failed to report rapes, abuse and serious injuries committed against children under its care. Focused on the years 2014 and 2015, the audit also determined DCF was unaware of 260 incidents of what appeared to be serious bodily injury to children in its care.
"I do find it incomprehensible. They don’t have an accurate picture of what's going on and what the state needs to address it," said State Auditor Suzanne Bump.
The day after the release of the report, Bump’s office said they heard from several lawmakers who expressed various concerns with the findings. While she hopes the department makes internal policy changes, legislative action is also a possibility.
"They need to work with us and share and be transparent with the legislature," Farley-Bouvier said, "And they just haven’t been willing to do that."
The DCF has initiated "significant system-wide reforms" and new policies in the two years since the audit period. And it is also taking several other steps in the wake of the audit's findings, including:
- Centralizing its reporting of critical incidents in which children in its care are involved;
- Working with the Office of the Child Advocate to ensure expectations are met for "critical incident reporting" and reviewing the critical incidents cited in the audit.
- Updating its procedures for referring incidents of abuse, neglect, and/or sexual abuse of children to district attorneys’ offices for investigation; and
- Recording child-on-child injuries in case files.
The DCF said in a statement Thursday that it agrees with Bump's suggestion to streamline the fatality reporting process to ensure more timely submissions to the Office of the Child Advocate. It will also look into her suggestion to use MassHealth claims data.
"The department’s priority is to protect our most vulnerable children and it relies on mandated reporters, such as health care providers, physicians and teachers, to provide us with up-to-the-moment information about serious instances of suspected abuse and neglect so that we can respond with the urgency they deserve and ensure safety," DCF spokesperson Andrea Grossman said. "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."