BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker delivered a forceful rebuke of Auditor Suzanne Bump’s review of the Department of Children and Families, calling the claims in the audit released last week “irresponsible” and in some cases “simply not true” in a letter to DCF staff.
Baker wrote a nearly two-page letter to the DCF staff thanking them for their work and applauding their efforts over the past two years to improve the agency. But he also outlined his problems with Bump’s focus and messaging.
“I appreciate that the Auditor also cares about ensuring these children are safe. But for this report to ignore nearly everything you have done for the past two and a half years to improve the agency’s ability to do its work strikes me as wrong,” Baker wrote.
The charges and counter-charges back and forth between Baker’s administration and Bump over the days since the audit was released highlight the sensitivity around an agency whose well-documented problems at the end of Deval Patrick’s eight years in office served to sour his standing with the public.
From the Sun archives: The road to tragedy at DCF
Bump responded to Baker’s letter by calling it a “political statement,” and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, a Democrat running for governor, weighed in on Bump’s behalf as well.
“It’s long past time for Charlie Baker to stop blaming others for the shortfalls of his administration. Advocates for children in the care of DCF tell me the job of protecting them is far from done. Rather than criticizing Auditor Bump for shining the light on these problems and trying to blame others, Gov. Baker should use the information she highlights to make children safer,” Warren said.
Bump, a Democrat, released an audit last Thursday stating that between 2014 and 2015 the child welfare agency was unaware of 260 incidents of serious bodily injury to children in its care. It further asserted that 118 incidents of sexual abuse of a child in DCF care were not reported to the Office of the Child Advocate and 19 incidents of abuse and neglect were not reported to district attorneys.
Baker told the DCF social workers in his letter he was “dismayed” that Bump’s audit stopped in 2015 and did not take into account reforms that his administration has put in place. “At a minimum, it would be fair to say that the DCF of 2017/2018 is nothing like the DCF of 2014/2015. Nothing,” he said.
He also criticized Bump for not including any observations from social workers who interact with families every day, and denied the assertion in the audit that DCF employees do not report all incidents of assault to law enforcement. Later in the day, he said he wrote the letter to reassure DCF workers who “felt punched in the gut” by Bump’s audit.
“This is simply not true. The incidents from 2014 and 2015 that she alleges were left unreported were, in fact, referred to law enforcement. All of them,” he wrote. “Stating that ‘victimization of children in DCF’s care continues to occur unnoticed by the agency’ when the data set the Auditor uses are two and three years old is not just unfortunate and inaccurate – it’s irresponsible.”
Bump said Monday her audit was “not an indictment of the leadership nor the dedicated workers of the agency,” but a recognition that more needed to be done. In an interview on Boston Herald Radio last week, the auditor said her findings “stand apart” from the reforms that have taken place at the agency since 2015.
“We have reason to believe since the agency still does not use the MassHealth database to look for bodily injury that others haven’t reported to them that they are not seeing the full picture of abuse,” she said in the radio interview.
Leaning on his background as a health and human services secretary and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker said he was skeptical of Bump’s decision to review Medicaid claims data and her recommendations that DCF should rely more heavily on those forms as an “effective tool” for identifying abuse.
The governor said “maybe” it could be a secondary tool, but he said those records are used for billing, not clinical diagnoses, and can be three to six months old. “Are there opportunities to use claims data as a secondary information tool? Maybe – we will look into that – but the idea that this is better than continuing to double down on the folks who see these kids and know them better than anyone is incorrect,” he said.
Bump said Baker’s letter does not dispute that DCF does not report all “critical incidents” to the Office of the Child Advocate, impeding that office’s ability to do its job, and has not shown proof of the administration’s claim that 19 cases of abuse were reported to law enforcement, despite the district attorneys having no records of those cases.
“Governor Baker has issued a political statement and I respect his ability to do that. The public, however, should consider not the Governor’s statement, but DCF’s own acknowledgement (sic) that the circumstances that gave rise to the audit findings have not changed. The Governor is denying a reality that DCF itself does not dispute,” Bump said.
Baker, when asked Monday if he thought Bump put the audit together in bad faith, said he was “not going to speak for what anybody’s motivation is,” but remains troubled that Bump’s audit team did not seek out the opinions of DCF field staff and relied on data that pre-dates important reforms the agency has worked to implement.
The governor noted that his administration since 2015 has invested $100 million in new funding for the agency to hire 350 new social workers, reduce caseloads, improve staff supervision and case intake policies, utilize technology and assist social workers with a medical team to evaluate the wellbeing of children in the care.