Probe of DCF case spurs call for more changes to protect children

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Written by Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE — A report released Friday calls for a series of reforms at the Department of Children and Families based on its handling of the case of a 7-year-old Hardwick boy now in a coma after he was allegedly abused and starved by his father.

The investigation into the case of Jack Loiselle found that DCF staff is working under many policies that have not been updated in at least a decade, including an intake policy that is 12 years old.

The report, which was authored by the DCF, found “it is quite clear that DCF does not have the policy framework, operating rules, and executional follow-through that is required to properly serve and support all children with which it is involved.”

Reforms to the department would include the re-establishment of the department’s central Massachusetts office, which was joined with the Worcester office several years ago, Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters. He anticipated the opening of the office would cost between $1 million and $2 million.

[Watch: Press Conference]

Several high-profile cases that have put the department under scrutiny have originated from the DCF’s western region, including the 2013 disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy whose body was later found along a highway in Sterling. A report on the unexplained death of a 2-year-old girl who died last month in foster care in Auburn is due by the end of September.

A review is now under way of all cases in the Worcester office that involve multiple reports of possible abuse or neglect and will soon be taken up statewide, Baker said. The investigation into the Hardwick case found that staff in the Worcester office did not have a clear understanding or practice for how to review multiple reports or take the volume into account.

In one six-month period in 2008, nine reports alleging abuse or neglect of the boy were filed with the DCF, according to the report. Additionally, before his case was opened with the department, mandated reporters had contacted the department several times about potential abuse or neglect.

“The investigation found that when new reports were received on allegations that had been made previously, the area office believed another investigation was not warranted…,” the report reads. “Repeated reports, however, indicated that there was a significant and growing concern about Jack’s safety and wellbeing from a variety of reporters.”

Jack was hospitalized on July 14 after his father found him unresponsive at home. Doctors found him to be apparently malnourished, weighing 38 pounds, and with bruises and burns on his body.

Randall Lints, the boy’s father, has been accused of withholding food and liquid from his son.

Lints himself received DCF services as a child, but the review found that workers on his son’s case did not know details of abuse the father reportedly suffered, including being “locked in his bedroom without any food or furniture.”

The DCF report calls for staff to routinely examine records for previous history of abuse, trauma or neglect in a family and develop assessment guidelines.

“His own childhood was enormously troubled,” Baker said of the father, “and should have been factored into every decision concerning Jack’s care, well-being and safety.”

The DCF had been monitoring the boy since February, and the review shows that Lints had expressed concern as early as December 2014 that he was not able to serve as a parent. His ability to parent was never formally assessed by the DCF, the probate court that had awarded him custody, or any of the six service providers that had been involved with the family.

Reports on and observations of the child’s condition from DCF, the child’s school and the service providers often contained conflicting information about the boy’s condition, according to the report.

“There was a lot of eyes on this family, and I think one of the takeaways for us is that many eyes on a family, the visibility, does not connote safety,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said.

Caseworkers who had been involved will not be fired, since the failings were at a systemic level and not the fault of individual workers, Baker said.

“The problem here is the policy,” he said. “The easy thing to do would be to fire someone over that. The hard thing to do is to fix the policy and to hold people accountable to it.”

The union representing DCF workers released a statement Friday praising the report’s call for reforms and pledging to work with the administration to implement them.

“From the ongoing caseload crisis to disjointed policies and communication shortfalls, today’s report highlights the real and immediate need to address the serious, systemic challenges that persist at the Department of Children & Families,” said Peter MacKinnon, a social work supervisor in the department’s Lowell office and president of the Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union’s DCF chapter.

Copyright State House News Service