The state social worker who cut-and-pasted years-old reports when preparing evaluations in the Bella Bond case will not be fired but will receive a “formal written warning,” Governor Charlie Baker said Friday.
Baker’s decision came two months after the Office of the Child Advocate found that the worker “largely copied information” from 2006, six years before Bella was born, when writing reports on Bella’s mother in 2012 and 2013, after she was accused of neglecting her daughter.
The dated information made it impossible for the Department of Children and Families to properly evaluate the risks that the girl was facing and led the department to close her case in September 2013, officials have said.
That, in turn, meant that when DCF conducted a statewide review of all cases of children under 5 just a month later, in October 2013, managers saw no reason to closely scrutinize Bella’s case and gave her file only a cursory look.
In June, nearly two years later, the girl’s body was found on Deer Island, sparking a nationwide campaign to identify the remains of a girl known then only as Baby Doe.
Baker, who ordered his own review of the social worker’s record, said Friday that of 16 assessments she completed, two “did not follow proper protocols.”
Officials did not elaborate on those violations.
But overall, the social worker — who is now an adoption specialist and who had been on the job for just three months when she had Bella’s case — has a solid track record of family assessments and home visits, state officials said.
Defending his decision to issue her only a written warning, the governor argued that it is more important to continue to overhaul DCF’s policies than to “throw somebody under the bus.”
“We need to go as fast as we can to fix the managerial oversight, supervision, infrastructure, guidance, and direction that we provide to social workers at DCF, and then hold them accountable,” he said. “But you can’t hold them accountable if you don’t give them any guidance, you don’t have a rulebook, and you don’t have any supervisory policies.”
Maureen Flatley, a child welfare consultant, said the governor should have taken tougher action against the employee, given the tragic outcome of the case.
Michael McCarthy, the boyfriend of Bella’s mother, has been charged with killing the 2-year-old. The mother, Rachelle Bond, has been charged with covering up the killing. Both have pleaded not guilty.
“There is absolutely no excuse for this worker to remain on the payroll,” Flatley said. “There is no doubt, based on the public record of this case, that this worker was negligent.”
By issuing only a written warning, however, Baker avoids a potential fight with the union that represents DCF social workers, at a time when he is trying to work closely with the union to rewrite the agency’s policies. The union, which did not respond to a request for comment, approved of the warning for the worker, state officials said.
Baker has taken stronger disciplinary action in some past cases.
In September, he announced that two DCF workers had been placed on administrative duty after a department report revealed failures at almost every level in the case of Avalena Conway-Coxon, a 2-year-old who died of heat stroke in an Auburn foster home this summer.
State officials said at the time that the workers, a manager and a social worker who had been with DCF for 25 years, could be disciplined or fired.
Officials said Friday that the social worker has since retired and the manager’s case is still under review.
Still, it was no surprise that the worker in Bella’s case was not fired. The governor had said previously that blame in Bella’s case should not rest solely with that employee.
“Leadership is where this starts,” he said in October, “and I really wonder sometimes when everybody says, ‘Let’s fire the person at the bottom of the pile,’ if the organization doesn’t have in place, which this one didn’t, updated practice standards.”