The report released on Thursday by state Auditor Suzanne Bump covers the years 2014 and 2015. Even more troubling: The report found 19 instances - including rape, sexual abuse by a DCF-contracted employee or assaults - but those cases were not reported to local prosecutors.
"He has long-prioritized DCF and he views protecting vulnerable children as a central mission of state government", Whitney Dow Ferguson, the spokeswoman, said in a statement. "This audit found that despite reforms, victimization of children in DCF's care continues to occur unnoticed by the agency".
Sudders, a social worker, said she is "disappointed" Bump is taking the information from the two years of the audit period and applying it to the agency as it now stands.
Sudders said every alleged sexual assault is considered a "serious incident"; the allegations are investigated by the department and referred to law enforcement for investigation and prosecution. Instead of getting data from sources like MassHealth - which enrolls all children in DCF care - the agency relied on others to notify them of any injuries or incidents. Children in DCF care who have been removed from their homes are enrolled in MassHealth, and DCF has access to claims data for these children but is not now using this information to identify serious medical incidents.
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"The information in this audit is not current as it began four years ago during the prior administration, and the Baker-Polito Administration began implementing a comprehensive overhaul of DCF reforms in 2015 to support the Commonwealth's most vulnerable children".
According to the department, they're seeking to streamline the child fatality reporting process as a way to get more timely reports to the Office of the Child Advocate. He said his office has reached out to the Office of the Child Advocate "to consider next steps". It will also look into her suggestion to use MassHealth claims data. "Serious injuries they knew nothing about", said Bump. "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".
Bump said DCF is taking steps to remedy its behavior, including working with OCA, centralizing reporting of critical incidents, and recording child-on-child injuries in case files. "However, it is concerning that this report did not take into account the experience and viewpoint of child protective workers, including those involved in cases or examples discussed in the report".
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