Embattled Head of Mass. DCF Resigns

(NECN) – The head of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families announced her resignation Tuesday amid massive backlash the agency is facing involving the deaths of several children under the agency's supervision.

Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz announced Tuesday morning that he has accepted the resignation of Olga Roche.

The DCF has been facing scrutiny ever since the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, who was found dead earlier this month. The latest cases in question involve the deaths of two infants, whose families were under the agency's supervision.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said that Roche has the expertise to lead the agency, but she no longer has the trust. He admitted that he accepted her resignation with sadness.

He said that the DCF has one of the toughest assignments possible. Patrick added that the DCF is in the middle of a host of changes and that the resignation at this time comes with a high risk and that it is not the right time for it to be done, but that it is necessary.

Patrick said, "So I agree that the commissioner should step aside. I have to admit that I do so with some sadness. But the secretary, the commissioner herself and I agree that the time is right."

Patrick announced that Erin Devaney will be the interim commissioner and said she brings management experience in large state agencies.

Scrutiny of - and lack of confidence in - the Mass. DCF may have reached an all-time high Monday, following the deaths of two infants. The cases of 4-week-old Aliana Lavigne of Grafton and 2-week-old Bailey Irish of Fitchburg had been brought to the attention of DCF.

Those cases prompted prominent lawmakers in Massachusetts to call for Roche to step down, and for major changes at the agency.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who announced his desire for the commissioner to resign Monday, released the following statement:

"Installing new leadership at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is only the first step.  DCF is an agency in crisis; and we must immediately undertake the difficult, but crucial, task of creating an effective structure of protection and care for our most vulnerable children. The House’s ongoing efforts to heighten oversight, provide resources to lower caseload ratios and implement significant IT improvements at DCF are already proceeding.  Today, as we mark a new beginning, my deepest sympathies and prayers go out to those who knew and loved Jeremiah Oliver, Bailey Irish and Aliana Lavigne."

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who also called for Roche to resign Monday, said in a statement, "I believe Governor Patrick has made the tough but right decision today as a first step to restoring the public's trust in DCF. The challenges at DCF go well beyond the leadership of the Commissioner, however, and it is imperative that we implement additional reforms to better protect our children."

The Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union also shared its thoughts of Roche's resignation in a statement.

"Those of us on the front lines wake up each day with a sole focus on keeping at-risk kids safe – and today’s announcement presents a critical opportunity to institute the reforms and investments we need to get the job done," it read in part.

The SEIU Local 509 noted in its statement that the DCF's caseload crisis worsens every day and that it believes changes in policy and accountability are "desperately needed."

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