Message from DCF Chapter President Peter MacKinnon on Fitchburg Tragedy

Colleagues,

I don’t need to tell you that the last week has been an incredibly trying time for all of us at the Department of Children & Families. There are no words to describe the tragedy that has occurred in Fitchburg, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of Jeremiah Oliver and all those impacted by this case.

I’ll lay the situation out plain: if the allegations put forward by Commissioner Roche are proven true by a formal investigation, then the individuals involved — including DCF managers — must be held accountable. Those who played a role in this tragedy must accept responsibility. And in an effort to get to the truth quickly in this specific case and ensure accountability for everyone involved, we have agreed to an expedited grievance hearing process. But the Department cannot afford to let this single case paper over the real, systemic caseload crisis that overshadows the critical work we do each day. 

Those of us who are on the front lines, working to protect our communities’ most at-risk kids, know just how serious this crisis has become. Promises of movement are no longer sufficient. And as Judge William Young so succinctly put in the Connor B case weeks ago, immediate action is needed to address the crisis before another tragedy occurs.

No one has done more to take on and address the systemic issues at the Department of Children & Families than this union. Over 1,000 of us have come to highlight the critical need for additional caseworkers at DCF. We put years into securing a monumental agreement to bring caseloads closer to safe and manageable levels. And we’ve consistently pushed real, tangible solutions in face-to-face meetings with the Commissioner and her staff — including some ideas that wouldn’t cost any money. 

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, we’ve been working hard to educate the media about what’s really at stake with the caseload crisis at DCF. Nearly two dozen media outlets have addressed the caseload crisis in their reporting over the last three days — be sure to check out stories from State House NewsWBUR Radio and theWorcester Telegram, among others.

These have been tough days for all of us, and there will likely be more to come. We’ve already heard of new proposals from the administration that will pose both challenges and opportunities — and will be addressing those in short order. I will be sure to keep everyone up to date as information becomes available.

We know that, working together, we can bring about the real, systemic change that is needed to ensure each and every child in Massachusetts receives the best care possible. 

Thank you for all you do,

Peter MacKinnon
DCF Chapter President, SEIU Local 509

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