25 Investigates: Dozens of DCF staffers and relatives under investigation for abuse

BOSTON — Dozens of DCF staffers – or their relatives – are currently under investigation for abusing or neglecting children, 25 Investigates has learned.

A DCF spokeswoman said there were 37 so-called conflict of interest cases open as of Feb. 4. Those cases can involve social workers, their relatives or other DCF staff.

DCF Commissioner Linda Spears acknowledged that DCF staffers have been investigated for abuse or neglect of children in their personal lives at a hearing with lawmakers on Tuesday, however, she could not immediately give details on exactly how many of her workers have come under investigation in the past year.

But 25 Investigates has learned some of these cases are handled by a nonprofit contractor called Solutions for Living, which reported overseeing 27 conflict of interest cases in just fiscal year 2016 alone, according to tax records.

A DCF spokeswoman said the agency contracts with both Solutions for Living and the Center for Human Development to handle potential conflict of interest cases and investigations.

Solutions for Living, Inc. collected more than $700,000 from the state last year, while Massachusetts taxpayers doled out more than $57 million to the Center for Human Development in fiscal 2017.

The new revelations come after Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen went to the State House to question DCF’s top boss about why the agency’s social workers are going years — even decades — without undergoing criminal background checks.

Spears told Rasmussen: “This is something we talked about with both the Legislature and the union. We'll be working on it in the future.”

During the hearing with lawmakers, Spears said DCF social workers, who oversee all kids under state watch, only undergo criminal background checks when they are hired and promoted — or in special circumstances.

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That’s far less scrutiny than that faced by state workers at other agencies that deal with children.

At the Department of Youth Services, state workers are screened for criminal offenses every three years, according to an official at that agency who also testified at the State House Tuesday.

Spears announced her agency has made improvements since a scathing State Auditor report last year uncovered more problems at DCF, including revelations that DCF was not forwarding all cases of sexual abuse to the Office of the Child Advocate.

Spears said her agency is now sending those reports to the OCA.

But state Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, R-Taunton, questioned why DCF social workers are still not subject to regular criminal background checks.

“Do you find it concerning at all that somebody could go many years without a CORI that has children in their care?,” asked O’Connell.

Spears said, “We believe CORI is a really critical process. We have the ability to check CORI at any given time during a person’s service with the agency.”

A union representative for DCF social workers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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