Report: DCF Focuses Too Much on Keeping Families Together

The embattled agency needs to focus more on protecting kids.

The latest report on the embattled Department of Children and Families found that kids in the care of the “dysfunctional” agency are suffering because its has not updated how it evaluates cases.

The Pioneer Institute, a libertarian think tank, released findings suggesting that the DCF’s two-tiered intake system, which separates cases into high-risk and low-risk categories, is broken. Per the report, the department is too focused on keeping families together and not focused enough on child protection. Pioneer stopped short of calling for an end to the two-tier system, but does recommend the agency implement reforms that will result in cases that fall into the low-risk category facing more intense scrutiny and review, including continuing to monitor cases for up to a year after they have been formally closed by the department.

High-risk cases at DCF tend to focus on the health and wellbeing of the child, while social workers handling low-risk cases focus more on trying to keep families intact. The report found that, too often, social service agencies misdiagnose cases upon intake, resulting in cases falling into the wrong treatment tier.

The report ultimately found that, “To eliminate re-occurrence of this issue in Massachusetts DCF cases, the agency should strengthen its criteria for intake assignments by adding areas to check before a track assignment decision is made.”

Pioneer recommended that the agency reevaluate its use of technology in tracking cases in light of future changes required by the federal government: “The priority in adoption of new technology should be effective intake and screening tools to gather data prior to pathway assignment to improve the quality of information available to DCF staff at critical decision-making points.”

Pioneer cited a diverse range of studies and reports on the agency in its white paper and encouraged DCF to take into account all of those findings as the agency proceeds through a tough reform period. In an unusual step from a libertarian think tank, the agency praised the workers at DCF and said they should be not be blamed for all of the department’s struggles: “Writing off DCF’s problems by scapegoating employees is unfair because it mischaracterizes the scope and nature of those problems.”

The agency has been under an intense microscope since the 2013 disappearance and death of Jeremiah Oliver. A new level of scrutiny was fostered on the agency in the aftermath of the recent disappearance and death of Bella Bond.