The Department of Children and Families Almost Got a New Commissioner This Week

The Deval Patrick administration wanted Maria Zoe Mossaides, executive director of Cambridge Family and Children’s Service, to take over as commissioner of the troubled Department of Children and Families (DCF), but she had to withdraw from consideration late last week.

One person close to the process confirms that Mossaides was on a short list for the job, and two others closely involved say that Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz had decided on Mossaides and extended an offer. Mossaides decided that circumstances made it too difficult for her to leave her current organization, according to my sources.

Had she taken the position, Mossaides could have been announced as the new commissioner around the time the critical Child Welfare League of America review of the department was released, on Wednesday of this week. Instead, Polanowicz is continuing to look for a permanent commissioner, with interim commissioner Erin Devaney among those under consideration.

Mossaides, who is also chair of the Children’s League of Massachusetts and is a former acting commissioner of the Office for Children, declined to comment about her own candidacy for the position. However, she did discuss what the new commissioner might be able to accomplish, even with a short opportunity before a new administration takes over after the November election.

Despite that roughly six-month limitation, Mossaides believes that a commissioner could make important improvements. “You can begin to refocus on safety as a first priority,” she says. Much of the problem, she says, lies in initiatives over the years that lacked proper training, implementation, and quality assurance. “The department attempted to implement things that everybody agreed intellectually were a better approach, but they did the implementation poorly,” she says. “What can happen [in six months] is prioritizing and standardizing: when the cases come in, which get screened in; and that every case that gets screened in, gets assessed for safety.”

Moassaides says she has confidence in Secretary Polanowicz, and is hopeful that the legislature and the Patrick administration will provide the resources it will take. “There is a value to starting immediately, making sure that these critical pieces get done.”