Remarks of Peter MacKinnon, DCF Chapter President
As prepared for delivery October 6, 2014
Good morning. My name is Peter MacKinnon. I’ve worked in child protection for nearly twenty years – now as a social work supervisor in DCF’s Lowell office. I also serve as President of the Department of Children and Families Chapter of SEIU Local 509.
For much of the last year, there has been a lot of attention paid to child protection efforts in Massachusetts – from the worsening caseload crisis to outdated policies and technology. And while the issues involved were not new, recent tragedies brought light to challenges child protection veterans have raised for many years.
As Election Day approaches, voters rightly want their next Governor to be able to tackle these challenges – to provide the resources, leadership, and accountability that the Department of Children and Families needs to keep at-risk kids safe from abuse and neglect. This is a vital test, as so many innocent lives depend on the decisions and priorities of our elected officials.
When Charlie Baker had the chance to lead, he failed that vital test.
First as Secretary of Health & Human Services and then as Secretary of Administration and Finance, Charlie Baker was responsible for the Department of Social Services, now called DCF. With Charlie Baker in charge, DSS was in turmoil.
So Baker’s boss – Governor Weld – appointed a Special Commission to perform a full investigation of the department. It was tasked with conducting an extensive independent review of child protection efforts in the Commonwealth.
What they found was an agency on the edge of collapse. A caseload crisis worse than today’s. Widespread management failures and a total lack of support for front-line social workers and investigators. Kids exposed to repeated abuse and neglect.
You don’t need take my word for it. These are the conclusions of commission investigators, direct from their report on Charlie Baker’s DCF. Among their observations:
“DSS is in the midst of an organizational breakdown”
“The department stands virtually paralyzed”
“Unable to effectively service children and families”
“years of deterioration…recently exacerbated to the edge of collapse by leadership and management failures”
“Staff deprived of needed resources, unsupported by management, and overloaded with critical cases”
“As a result of those multiple failures…children have suffered increasing developmental failures and behavioral disturbances…”
These problems did not all begin and end with Charlie Baker. But, like all leaders, the actions Baker took – and didn’t take – in response to these findings were, and are, 100% his responsibility.
The Legislature, in response to this report, allocated additional funding to hire more social workers, reduce caseloads, and help stabilize the agency. That put the ball in Baker’s court.
So what did Charlie Baker do while leading an agency on the verge of collapse? What did he do now that he had the financial resources and support to begin fixing it? He ignored all the warnings and sent millions of dollars back to the General Fund – money that had been dedicated to child protection.
So even when he was given the chance to fix this colossal mess at DCF – a mess he played a role in creating – Charlie Baker’s priorities were elsewhere.
Child welfare advocates actually had to sue to force Baker’s Administration to do the right thing – and an Arbitrator awarded nearly $2 million in damages as a result.
The simple fact is the failures of DCF under Charlie Baker set the stage for the crisis we face today.
There are a bunch of Republicans in Washington DC spending millions of dollars to hide the truth about the candidates’ records on child protection. But no matter how much they may spend on ads, they can’t paper over the truth of Charlie Baker’s failed record at DCF.
When faced with a real opportunity and real resources, Charlie Baker’s DCF failed our kids. And today, we face a similar opportunity with real resources and the will for reform. We can’t afford to fail our kids again.