Submitted by State Senator Michael Barrett
State Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) is asking the Patrick administration to disclose complete data on staffing at key human services agencies, including the Mass. Department of Children and Families (DCF). Since the news broke in December of the disappearance of five-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, a child identified by DCF as in danger of neglect and abuse, independent child welfare advocates have flagged DCF staffing levels as a key concern.
“The situation cries out for truth-telling, self-examination and possibly self-criticism. It’s becoming harder to suppose we’re dealing with just a few bad apples rather than a systemic problem. During hard times, have all the key decision-makers protected DCF’s capacity to do its job?” asks Barrett, Senate Chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.
He adds, “We may not accept the reported numbers at face value. And they may tell us only some of what we need to know. But let’s get this part of the story out in the open.”
Barrett made his data request in a letter sent just before the new year to John Polanowicz, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). For the various departments under his Committee’s purview, Barrett asks for the total number of staff in FY 2007 as compared to the current fiscal year. The aim, Barrett says, is to gain insight into how budget cuts may or may not have affected services. For each agency, Barrett is also seeking totals for front-line staff — those who work face-to-face with clients.
“I’m counting on the Secretariat to be fully transparent about these head counts,” says Barrett. “The Committee needs to know overall staffing levels and specifically both the numbers of front-line workers and the numbers of middle managers available to train and supervise them.”
According to the Children’s League of Massachusetts, DCF lost more than $131M in funding from FY09 to FY13, adjusted for inflation. Advocates allege budget cuts in 2010 targeted district managers in particular, reducing oversight of front-line caseworkers.
“This information will help the Legislature advocate for the agencies and for the people they serve, especially during the upcoming FY15 budget process,” Barrett says. “The Governor’s budget proposal is expected soon,” Barrett says. “We need to gain a better understanding of what relationships may exist between appropriations and available staffing.”