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DCF Commissioner Olga Roche resigns amidst controversy

In the days following the discovery of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver’s body, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche announced Tuesday her immediate resignation.

Oliver, who lived in Fitchburg, disappeared in September while under DCF care, but officials did not discover the child was missing until December. Jeremiah’s mother, Elsa Oliver, and her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra, were indicted in March on charges of child abuse.

Three state employees, including the social worker and supervisor responsible for checking on Oliver beginning in September 2011, were fired due to ignoring reports of abuse.

The addition of two other child deaths this month, believed to be caused by a lack of department supervision, have placed DCF in the crossfire. Several people have looked down on Roche in recent months for pointing fingers at respective members of the department who are to blame for the boy’s disappearance.

Massachusetts Rep. Robert DeLeo said in a Tuesday statement installing new leadership in DCF is only the first step to solving these problems.

“DCF is an agency in crisis; and we must immediately undertake the difficult, but crucial, task of creating an effective structure of protection and care for our most vulnerable children,” he said in the statement. “The House’s ongoing efforts to heighten oversight, provide resources to lower caseload ratios and implement significant IT improvements at DCF are already proceeding.”

DeLeo spoke to reporters at an open appearance Monday  and said the deaths of children due to negligence on the part of a state department is unacceptable, and Roche’s resignation is the first step toward preventing these situations from ever repeating themselves.

“Quite frankly, I am angered to see this continuing to happen,” he said. “It shows a complete lack of management on behalf of DCF, and we have to take strong action. We can’t wait until the end of the year. We can’t wait for a new governor who may bring in a new commissioner. We have to take action now.”

Erin Deveney, who has been serving as the DCF deputy commissioner of operations for less than month, will be serving as the interim commissioner, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced at a press conference Tuesday.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker oversaw DCF while serving as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the administration of former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. In a statement released Tuesday, Baker said he was pleased to see Patrick accept Roche’s resignation and take the first step to fixing the department’s systematic failures.

“The children and families impacted by DCF deserve accountability and swift reassurance that the state is taking the right steps to fix this serious problem,” he said.

Several residents said Roche’s resignation will allow the department to refocus their goals and prevent future child neglect and death.

Tammy Mak, 25, of Brighton, said Roche’s resignation should not be the state’s way to find someone to blame. Instead, the public should choose a new leader and begin moving the department in the right direction.

“The public sees her as a leader, but as an individual, she has the right to choose to resign and for them to choose a different leader,” she said. “They should look for not someone to blame, but at the problem itself. I don’t like to hear about children dying, but we have to look at the issues contributing to this.”

Patrick Armstrong, 25, of Allston, said this situation is not black and white, and for that reason, there is no evidence to prove that Roche’s resignation was the optimal solution for the department.

“Three instances may not mean any foul play has occurred or that [the children’s deaths] are a pattern,” he said. “In this situation, we have to look at the leadership, but I don’t know if that means she is required to resign.”

Bryn Schockett, 29, of Allston, said Roche’s decision to resign reflects her ability to understand that the deaths of the children may not be directly her fault, but her lack of supervision over the department as a whole may have lead to the various situations.

“When things fail in the department as a whole and drastic situations happen, it’s the person in leadership’s responsibility to sink or swim with the ship,” she said. “As a human being, she has to accept her resignation even if everything was not entirely her fault. She didn’t oversee the department as well as she could have.”

One Comment

  1. I am so sorry with everything that is going on in the DCF services. However i want you to know that being an old client, being apart of the many committees and as a member of the board. I do not feel that this should reflect on the commissioner. The commissioner is in the state house and not in the communities that theses children have lost their lives. I believe it should be the case workers, supervisors, APM’s or even the area directer who should be held accountable.

    As much as I hate to say this a child’s death is sad and specially at the hands of the people who are suppose to love there children the most, however there are so many false 51A’s that are filed just out of pay backs, or just people that jump to conclusions without knowing the facts holds up the system from doing what it needs to do for the people who truly need help, and it wastes time and money on the children that truly need help. Not to mention; when this happens it is easier for those’s children and families who need help fall through the cracks. I am sorry, but if there was accountability is not just on the case worker’s or DCF staff, but those people who waste there time claiming false allegations, should be held accountable as well.

    I wonder if theses people realize how much time, and money that is spent investigating false claims? I don’t think they really care and to be honest teachers, cops nurses ex. are no better at jumping to conclusions. However i have learned this is more in the school system then any other place.

    As part of the various committees that i have been apart of, i have had the opportunities to see first hand what it takes and been able to know what it costs, i feel that i can be objective in this. I here the parents involved and get it, but they don’t get it.

    Often times I hear parents say how the system needs to change, well this maybe true, but this is not just a DCF problem, but it is a community problem. Every person has a responsibility to ensure our children s safety, however this can not be done with false claims nor can this be done keeping quiet. I also have come to realize that DCF is damned no matter what. If they are to hard on families they are not doing there jobs and if a child is hurt they are not doing there jobs. There is a fine line and can’t have it both ways.However there is no way to protect every last child without getting some sort of rep cautions no matter what.

    So what I am getting at is; firing the best commissioner for the job isn’t going to change anything. No matter who there is there will always be tragic issues that happen. Until theses people/parents are ready to be grown ups this will always happen and it is no one persons fault, but the people who are committing the crime to begin with.

    I felt the needed to speak out!