Report: Caseworkers in MA being set up ‘to fail’

Caseworkers in the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families are being ‘set up to fail’ due to poor management and rising caseloads, according to a review released this week by the state’s Child Advocate Office.

The office’s interim report, based in part on interviews and focus groups with DCF managers, supervisors and caseworkers, portrays a management system unable to provide proper support for employees tasked with keeping children away from abuse and neglect. A 1986 labor agreement was supposed to cap the weighted caseload for individual workers at 18, but the report said the average caseload stands at 21 and the average number of active cases per worker has increased 35 percent since 2011, according to the Associated Press.

“This is not a new problem. For years Children’s Rights has been calling on the state to address excessive caseloads, which has long plagued the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families,” said Sara Bartosz, lead counsel at Children’s Rights. “When caseloads get overlooked and mismanaged, it is the children who suffer. It is absolutely critical that the state takes action on this pressing issue.”

The report also notes that changes to DCF policy have contributed to higher intake rates. One of these changes occurred in January 2014, when DCF started investigating any report concerning a child five-years-old or younger with family risk factors that include young parents, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health, or unresolved childhood trauma, reports and the Boston Globe.

“The management system at DCF is not capable of ensuring that DCF fulfills its mission consistently,” the report states. “The weaknesses in the current management system leave the workforce overwhelmed and stressed, and more vulnerable to the vicarious trauma inherent in child protection work.”

DCF spokeswoman Andrea Grossman responded to the report in a written statement: “The department has already implemented some systemwide recommendations, in addition to hiring 300 new social workers and a $35.5 million increase in this year’s budget, and is aggressively pursuing others focused on improving the level of care.”