BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the state must update the way it handles investigations into allegations of abuse or neglect of children if it hopes to avoid more cases like the death of 2-year-old Bella Bond, whose body was found on a Boston-area beach in June.
Baker told reporters that one of his top priorities is revamping the intake policy for the Department of Children and Families, which he said hasn't been updated in a decade.
The policy covers the process that happens from the time an allegation of abuse or neglect is reported to DCF to the decision whether it will be investigated and eventually opened as a case.
Baker said the failure of the policy is at the root of a series of cases that have recently come to light, including Bella's death.
He said building a new protocol won't happen overnight.
"The single biggest issue I see at DCF ... is you have a lot of really well-intentioned, hardworking people but you have nowhere near as much consistency with respect to what I would describe as the playbook that people should be relying on and working with," Baker said.
He said it's "a huge problem" that the state doesn't update protocols for in-home services for child welfare workers and social workers every year or so to include protocols that work and remove those that don't. Baker said he plans to not only come up with new protocols but to make sure they're followed and adjusted as needed.
"I want DCF to understand all the way to the ground, every single employee of the agency, what it is we're trying to accomplish, how it is we're trying to accomplish it, how we as an administration plan to support that, and then how we're going to measure how we're doing on following through on it," he added.
Bella's body was found in a plastic bag on a beach on Deer Island by a woman walking her dog. She was known for nearly three months as Baby Doe as investigators worked to learn her identity.
Her mother, Rachelle Bond, 40, is charged with being an accessory after the fact to Bella's death. Bond's boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, 35, is charged with murder for allegedly punching the girl in the abdomen until she stopped breathing.
DCF said the agency had been involved with the girl twice when she was an infant — in 2012 and 2013 — providing neglect-related support. The cases were then closed.
Baker said he was saddened when he looked through the file and found there was no outreach to DCF between 2013 and the present.
"Despite all these people who've now come forward and said I had issue A or issue B or issue C, I wish, I really wish somebody had picked up the phone and called DCF and raised this and reported some of their concerns," Baker said. "These cases, these kids, as a parent, break my heart."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo also wants an update from DCF on its policies. He said Bella's death exposed what he called "broader failures within the system."
DeLeo said Monday that he wants DCF to give House lawmakers details on actions they've taken since the 2013 case of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who went missing from his home after social workers lost track of him and whose remains were later found alongside a state highway.
The case prompted a wide-ranging review of DCF procedures.