FOX25 Investigates: State agency overseeing day cares rarely investigates problems

The state agency in charge of overseeing day cares and school programs rarely opens investigations into complaints of neglect and abuse – a troubling pattern uncovered by FOX25 Investigates.

The new findings by FOX25 comes a day after Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen revealed that state inspectors with the Department of Early Education and Care were often conducting investigations of abuse and neglect at two residential schools by phone.

FOX25 Investigates took a closer at EEC investigations and found many cases where the state agency isn’t doing any investigations at all.

>>RELATED: FOX25 Investigates: State school investigators phoning it in

In Metro Boston, EEC received 250 complaints of abuse and neglect at day cares, after-school programs and residential schools just since July. But only 33 of those complaints – or 13 percent – were ever assigned to an EEC investigator.

In the Worcester and Taunton area the ratio was even worse with less than 10 percent of complaints opened as investigations in the past five months.

FOX25 reported Thursday on allegations that a teacher was shaking and force-feeding children – some less than a year old – at a Hingham day care.

While the Department of Children and Families is looking into those specific allegations of abuse, EEC is responsible for investigating the day care’s operations.

A spokeswoman for EEC said the agency opened an investigation into that Hingham day care but would not say whether investigators would be making an on-site visit.

On Thursday, FOX25 Investigates reported that even when EEC did assign its school inspectors to look into complaints, much of the work was done by phone – rather than visiting in person.

EEC Commissioner Tom Weber told FOX25 Investigates his staffers make on-site visits “as necessary” and he recently told state lawmakers he has just five investigators to oversee more than 9,000 programs.

After last week’s hearing on Beacon Hill with EEC bosses, state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, told FOX25 Investigates that more needs to be done.

“There's no substitute for actually being there and seeing it and giving people the opportunity – one-on one – to be able to speak with an investigator,” said Tucker.

No one with EEC was available to speak on camera with FOX25, but an EEC spokeswoman said in an email that a reported incident can result in multiple complaints.

The agency says it reviews all complaints received and assigns investigators based upon the severity of the allegations.

An EEC spokeswoman told FOX25 an “investigator is usually assigned to matters when there have been allegations of child abuse, neglect, serious injury to, or fatality of, a child in the care of an early education and care, residential group care, or adoption or foster care services program or there have been several regulatory non-compliances within a program.”