Patrick: Oliver Disappearance Presents Ironic Opportunity

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says a failure at the state’s Department of Children and Families will lead to big changes. The department has faced severe criticism since the disappearance of a Fitchburg boy.

At a news conference, Patrick was short on new information about 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, or DCF’s missteps. The governor focused on the future.

“I think we have a great opportunity presented ironically by this terrible tragedy to rethink and reinvigorate the department and I want to ensure the public that that is exactly what we intend to do,” Patrick said.

Patrick previously hired the Child Welfare League of America to review the department’s policies and caseloads. The report is due in the spring.

In the meantime, Patrick says the state is developing a computer system to give social workers up-to-date information while in the field. He also asked DCF to even-out caseloads among offices. The union representing social workers says it’s been asking for that change for years.

The governor told reporters he has confidence in DCF Commissioner Olga Roche, but the praise was not as enthusiastic as in the past.

“We need her right now to help us get from here to the end of this department-wide review,” Patrick said.

Roche was not with Patrick at the news conference.