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The Boston Globe

Metro

Kevin Cullen

The answer isn’t just pumping more money into DCF

Get the violins out. Many trees will die as people twist themselves silly to say that forcing Olga Roche out changes nothing, that vulnerable children across Massachusetts will not be one iota safer now that the embattled head of the Department of Children and Families is finally the former head of the Department of Children and Families.

I’ve listened to all the excuses that Roche’s resignation would change nothing, and they ring as hollow as all the excuses that followed the explanations, or lack thereof, which followed the DCF’s failure in the case of Jeremiah Oliver, the Fitchburg boy who was most likely dead long before state social workers knew he was missing.

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While it is quite possible that nothing will change with Roche gone, it is quite certain that nothing would change with her still in charge because with every rock turned over, with every new case unearthed, with every new dead kid unearthed, the attention was on the status quo, not change.

So she had to go.

Now, what?

The conventional wisdom is that DCF is understaffed and underfunded. Most social workers are overworked, underpaid, and undersupervised. And they are charged with the virtually impossible: holding together dysfunctional families in which substance abuse, mental illness, and poverty combine to produce an elixir of inevitable tragedy.

We keep hearing about dead kids. What about the vast majority, the ones who continue to live in squalid conditions with squalid caregivers?

We don’t know the half of it. And, frankly, we don’t want to know. We certainly don’t want to pay. To dramatically impact the lives of the state’s most vulnerable children, from Grove Hall to Greenfield, from Orchard Park to Orange, we need a massive investment not so much in social work but in mental health care and recovery programs – the very programs that have been cut under successive administrations, Republican and Democrat, in the Commonwealth for two generations.

Olga Roche is gone, but Jeremiah Oliver’s legacy is very much still here, staring us in the face. A poor kid stuck in a dysfunctional home, in the care of adults who can’t take care of themselves, much less a little boy.

Pumping more money into DCF seems the easiest answer, and like most easy answers, it’s not that easy. If we don’t make it easier and more realistic for people with substance abuse and mental health issues to get treatment, we can throw billions at more social workers and supervisors and it won’t make much of a difference.

There are a bunch of people running for governor who, if they win the election next fall, will be in a position to do more than appoint the successor to Olga Roche’s successor.

Are we prepared to change the way we address poverty and dysfunction, or are we just waiting to cry crocodile tears over the next dead poor kid?

Gubernatorial candidates, discuss.

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