Baker rolls out plan to fix child welfare agency

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BOSTON – With an independent investigation under way into the death of Bella Bond, the murdered child known for months as Baby Doe, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Monday rolled out a six-point plan to reform the Department of Children and Families.

“DCF often struggles with mission confusion,” Baker said at an impromptu press briefing Monday morning. Now, he said, the mission will be simple and focused: “keep kids safe.”

He also announced an independent investigation by the Office of the Child Advocate into the Bond case. The toddler’s body was found in a plastic bag that washed up on a Boston harbor island beach in June. Her mother’s boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, has been charged with murdering Bella, while her mother, Rachel Bond, faces accessory charges. The child welfare agency had taken notice of the little girl’s situation in 2012 and 2013, but wasn’t involved with her this year.

Several earlier deaths of children who had been involved with the agency prompted the administration to  take a hard look at the department’s protocol when it has been called in to a family’s situation.

The highest priority under Baker’s plan will be to update the department’s intake policy, which hasn’t been revised for more than a decade.

Baker’s announcement came weeks after a report from the child advocate’s office revealed rising instances of abuse of children placed in foster homes.

Baker’s strategy also includes a new supervision policy – which also hasn’t been updated for at least seven years – that will outline when a child’s case should be prioritized for review at a higher level in the agency.

The administration will aims to improve the ratio of social workers to children, currently more than 20 to one.

“We need to get that to 18 to one,” Baker said. Under the new plan, the department will restore social work technicians to support social workers, eliminated through budget cuts in 2009, and will name the agency’s first-ever medical director.

The plan also includes a review of abuse reports that will be released next month, reopening a central Massachusetts district office in Worcester and an extension of partnerships to narrow the backlog of applications to become foster homes.