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‘Baby Doe’ case prompts new child welfare protocols in Mass.

November 17, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is making changes to the state’s child welfare department following a series of high-profile cases, including the death of a toddler who became known as Baby Doe after her remains turned up on a Boston Harbor beach over the summer.

The girl was later identified as 2-year-old Bella Bond. The state Department of Children and Families has been criticized for its handling of complaints against the girl’s mother. Rachelle Bond is now charged with being an accessory in her daughter’s death. Bond’s boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, is charged with murder for allegedly punching the girl in the abdomen until she stopped breathing. McCarthy’s lawyer has said his client denies killing the child. Both Bond and McCarthy have pleaded not guilty.

Baker said a new intake policy unveiled Tuesday will clarify protocols used to screen and investigate reports of abuse of neglect. The changes are also designed to help social workers identify which cases should be sent up for a higher-level review.

Baker said the changes will ensure the safety of children in the state’s welfare system by helping DCF “be responsive and accountable in its mission to protect every child we serve in every way we can.”

Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the changes will give social workers what she called “a standardized playbook for case-practice, decision making, and oversight.”

“Intake will be faster and more consistent, and there will be collaboration on cases with supervisors and managers so cases do not fall through the cracks,” she said.

The changes include:

— Requiring non-emergency reports of abuse and neglect to be reviewed in one business day — down from the prior three days. Emergency reports will continue to require an immediate screening decision and an investigatory response within two hours;

— Mandating a review of all information about a child and caregiver before becoming involved with DCF, and a review of any comparable information available from child welfare agencies in other states;

— Requiring criminal and sex offender background checks on parents, caregivers and all household members over 15 years old;

— Evaluating whether a parent understands how to keep their child safe, how to use appropriate discipline methods, and how to provide for the family’s basic needs.

Training on the new policies will begin in February.

The Bella Bond case is one of several high-profile incidents involving DCF this year, including the case of Jack Loiselle, a 7-year-old Hardwick boy who police say was beaten and starved by his father before falling into a coma. A report found DCF failed to pull together multiple abuse reports to adequately protect the boy. His father, Randall Lints, has pleaded not guilty to assault and child endangerment charges.

In August, 2-year-old Avalena Conway-Coxon and an unidentified second toddler were found unresponsive at an Auburn apartment complex. Avalena was later pronounced dead at a hospital. A state report found DCF failed to properly evaluate the qualifications of a foster mother and determine whether the home was safe for children.

The newer cases echo the 2013 case of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy whose remains were found alongside a highway after social workers lost track of him. That case forced the resignation of then-DCF Commissioner Olga Roche, appointed by former Gov. Deval Patrick.

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