Gov. Charlie Baker Trades Barbs with Suzanne Bump

The response to a report of wide dysfunction within the Department of Children and Families continues.

Gov. Charlie Baker

Photo via Governor’s Office/Alastair Pike

The state audit of Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families is not pretty. And neither is the fallout.

The audit revealed widespread dysfunction within the agency, bringing to light the gross incompetencies that left children entrusted to the state’s care in harm’s way between 2014 and 2015. The report detailed 19 incidents including rape and assault that occurred within DCF’s jurisdiction that went unreported to the District Attorney’s office, along with huge lapses in the case information given to social workers, according to the Boston Globe

Suzanne Bump, the state auditor, did not hold back in a press conference following the report’s release. She referred to the “willing ignorance” of DCF employees, and said at a news conference that “there is reason to conclude that kids are in abusive situations and DCF does not appreciate the magnitude of them because they are unaware of serious injuries that the children may be experiencing.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, who assumed office in January 2015, did not appreciate the way Bump presented her report. In a Monday morning letter to DCF leaders, Baker conceded that the agency could be doing more, but broadly defended the employees’ integrity: “The report implies and the Auditor’s press release makes an explicit claim—in the present tense—that DCF team members do not report assaults on children under the care and protection of DCF to law enforcement,” Baker wrote according to the Globe. “This is simply not true.”

Baker’s letter goes on to highlight the renewed state investment—to the tune of $100 million and 350 additional social workers—that helped transform the agency since 2014-15. He further criticized the audit for not including more updated data or observations from social workers on the agency’s frontlines.

But the feud didn’t end there. In response to Baker’s letter, Bump issued a response of her own on Monday, referring to the governor’s view of DCF as a “political statement,” according to MassLiveIn the latest iteration of the back-and-forth, Bump defended the audit’s conclusions and rebuffed the idea that the report was an attack on hard-working employees. “This is not an indictment of the leadership nor the dedicated workers of the agency,” Bump wrote in the emailed statement. “It is a continuation of systemic flaws that we urge DCF and Governor Baker to address.”

Let’s hope that moving forward, there’s a little bit less time arguing about the minutiae of the audit and more time spent actually implementing policy to protect children.