BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts’ child welfare agency was often unaware of serious injuries to children under its care and in other cases failed to report potential crimes against children to prosecutors, according to a state audit released Thursday.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration quickly pushed back against the audit, noting it covered the years 2014 and 2015 and did not reflect substantial reforms undertaken since then by the Department of Children and Families.
The report from Democratic Auditor Suzanne Bump uncovered 19 cases in which the department failed to notify district attorneys of such allegations as rape, sexual abuse by a contract worker at a residential facility and other incidents of sexual abuse by family members. Prosecutors told auditors they would have investigated those cases had they known of them at the time.
In 260 other cases, the audit said there was no record of the injuries being reported to the department, or of DCF determining whether they were critical incidents “that should have been reported and possibly investigated.”
Those unreported cases included a 15-year-old who suffered brain damage from a gunshot wound and a 1-year-old who had first- and second-degree burns. Another case involved a 12-year-old with multiple head injuries that a doctor concluded was caused by an assault.
“If they don’t know about them they can’t act on them,” Bump said at a news conference.
State Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders disputed several of the findings in the report and said overall it was not reflective of significant improvements that have occurred since the audit was completed.
“I do not agree with the auditor that the department is not taking every step possible to assure that children are safe,” Sudders said in conference call with reporters.
Baker’s administration pointed to a $100 million increase in the department’s budget since 2015 that has allowed for the hiring of several hundred new employees to ease crippling caseload for social workers, and the implementation of new supervisory procedures.
The agency suggested that DCF may have not been aware of the hundreds of injuries because mandated reporters, such as physicians and teachers, failed to report the incidents.
Bump called a policy in which the state’s independent Office of the Child Advocate excludes possible cases of sexual abuse if they don’t result in physical injury “incomprehensible.”
However, Sudders said that under current policy all sexual assaults on children are investigated by the department and referred to law enforcement.
Bump acknowledged that the administration has taken steps to improve operations since 2015 but said she still considered its overall response to the issues raised by the audit as “inadequate,” and warned that children were still at risk of being harmed. She said DCF would be asked in six months to update progress in implementing recommendations in the audit.
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo was described by his office as “incredibly upset and troubled” by the audit and said he planned to discuss with the Child Advocate possible steps that could be taken by the Legislature.
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