A defiant Gov. Charlie Baker pushed back against a 25 Investigates report that the Department of Children and Families has been closing the cases of missing Massachusetts kids, but Baker’s political rival vowed to make the foster care failure an issue on the campaign trail.
In a yearlong, nationwide investigation, Boston 25 News uncovered child welfare agencies across the country closed the cases of more than 53,000 foster kids listed as “runaway” and at least another 61,000 children listed as “missing.”
In Massachusetts, one teen told 25 Investigates that DCF closed her case while she was missing and unaccounted for. Child advocates and outreach workers said it’s a situation they see often.
Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen asked Baker: “Why would you ever close the case of a foster kid while they’re still missing?”
“Well, first of all we don’t ever close the case of a foster kid when they’re still missing,” said Baker. “We don’t close the cases.”
But that’s not what Joanna, a former foster kid, said happened to her.
Joanna says she ran away from a group home right before a suicide attempt landed her in the hospital last year and told 25 Investigates no one came to find her. She said she was missing for less than two weeks before she went back and sought out a DCF caseworker.
“I was like, ‘Look, I really need help’ and when I went in, she said, ‘Your case is closed,’” said Joanna. “I knew right then I was screwed.
Despite the stories of local kids in the system and the outreach workers who try to find them, federal data shows Massachusetts reported closing zero cases of foster kids labeled as “missing” or “runaway.”
“Your reporting shows that can’t possibly be true,” said Jay Gonzalez, Baker’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger.
Gonzalez said Joanna’s story highlights the kind of foster care failures Baker once promised to fix.
“The fact that Governor Baker and the Baker administration has basically given up on them and closing out cases for kids like Joanna is absolutely outrageous,” said Gonzalez.
Baker said services are available to foster kids after they turn 18 and seemed to reject the accounts of those who say they were kicked out of the system.
“Once they turn 18, it’s up to them to decide if they want to continue to be part of the system,” said Baker. “The notion that we would deny a kid who qualifies for services – first of all, it’s against policy and if it’s happening, we need to fix it.”
Georgia has already called for action in the wake of the investigation.
That state’s child welfare agency just ordered social workers to stop closing the cases of missing foster children after investigation reporting partner and Atlanta sister station WSB found more than 50 missing kids kicked out of the system within the past two years.
Meanwhile, Baker and DCF say they can close foster cases for any kid when they turn 18, but it’s unclear how many of them are missing at the time the case is closed because the state doesn’t track that information.
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