Commissioner Olga Roche of the Department of Children and Families made it clear to Governor Deval Patrick that she would step down if he asked, the governor said, but Patrick said he does not believe that would be helpful, citing her experience in the field of children’s protective services.
“If I thought it served the best interests of the children to ask for her resignation, I would ask for her resignation, but I don’t think it does,” Patrick said during an “Ask the Governor” segment on WGBH Friday afternoon.
The agency has been under criticism since it was disclosed that a 5-year-old boy named Jeremiah Oliver went missing while under the purported care of DCF.
Asked if she had offered to step down if Patrick loses confidence in her, the governor said, “Yeah, she’s been very clear about that.” An administration official said there had not been a formal offer of resignation.
Patrick also said the commissioner would receive support for dealing with lawmakers and the news media “so she can focus on managing the agency.”
Lawyers are determining if the agency can be “more forthcoming” on some issues, said Patrick. He said he did not see the usefulness of her possible resignation. Last week 24 lawmakers called on Patrick to seek Roche’s resignation, which prompted more than a dozen child welfare experts to issue statements supporting her.
“In any public management position, you’re going to have to deal from time to time with mob mentality, serious issues where people rally around a quick or simple fix like the call for Commissioner Roche’s resignation,” he said. “Nobody’s asked the second question: What exactly does that or would that solve? Olga Roche is somebody with 30 years of experience in child welfare. She’s been commissioner for 15 minutes, basically. She hasn’t been commissioner for very long.”
Angelo McClain, former DCF commissioner, stepped down earlier this year after six years in the role to take a job as executive director of the National Association of Social Workers. In April, Roche was named acting commissioner by Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz.
Roche had worked as deputy commissioner for field operations at DCF since 2007, overseeing 29 offices and 3,000 employees. She has a master’s of social work degree from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio and a bachelor’s of social work from Catholic University of Puerto Rico. She lives in Worcester, is fluent in Spanish, and has worked in Puerto Rico as a probation officer.
Patrick said confidentiality issues make it difficult to share information about the agency, and said he rarely reads coverage of himself. “I have expressed my own frustration with the ability to defend the agency if they won’t be more forthcoming with information,” he said, adding, “I avoid most press about me good or bad, because the bad stuff hurts your feelings and the good stuff goes to your head.”