BOSTON — A “fresh set of eyes” might be necessary to review the state’s child welfare agency in the wake of the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday.

Patrick said one goal is to make sure that the Department of Children and Families is following best practices when providing services.

“It may be that we need a third party to come and give us a look, so we’re thinking that through,” Patrick said. “This is not a job for amateurs.”

Patrick said one way of assessing the agency’s performance is to call on “some group or agency that is knowledgeable, that has some real gravitas and experience in this area that might help us bring a fresh set of eyes.” He didn’t give additional details.

Patrick also continued to defend DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and said the majority of social workers do good work under difficult circumstances.

The agency recently came under fire after the disappearance of Jeremiah Oliver, whose family was under DCF supervision. Jeremiah hasn’t been seen since September and is presumed dead.


Three workers at the agency’s Leominster office were fired, while the boy’s mother and her boyfriend are facing charges.

On Tuesday Roche met with the Northbridge superintendent of schools to discuss concerns that the agency’s local office had failed to respond to school officials’ apprehension about the well-being of some children.

Patrick said that many of those concerns were allayed by the meeting and some had to do with new teachers being unfamiliar with what social workers were permitted to disclose under confidentiality rules.

The administration released a follow-up letter from Superintendent Nancy Spitulnik in which she described the meeting with Roche as “very productive” and said the schools now have “a better understanding of how the department operates, including the screening and intake process.”

“It was clear that we are all committed to helping and supporting our students and families in whatever way we can,” Spitulnik said.

Demands for changes at the agency continue to mount, however.

State Sen. Mike Barrett on Wednesday called on the Patrick administration to disclose complete data on staffing at key human services agencies like DCF – including the total number of staff in the 2007 fiscal year compared to the current fiscal year.

The Lexington Democrat and Senate chairman of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities said he wants to understand how budget cuts may have affected services for agencies under his committee’s review like DCF.

“It’s becoming harder to suppose we’re dealing with just a few bad apples rather than a systemic problem,” Barrett said in a written statement.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.