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DCF Does Not Report Incidents of Abuse, Neglect, and/or Sexual Abuse of Children in Its Care to District Attorneys’ Offices for Investigation Whenever It Is Required to Do So.

Audit found 19 incidents of abuse or neglect of children in DCF care that were not formally reported to and received by district attorneys.

Table of Contents

Overview

During our audit period, 19 incidents of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or neglect that DCF determined had happened to children in its care were not formally reported to and received by district attorneys (DAs). A number of DAs told us that they would have performed detailed investigations of many of the unreported cases if DCF had properly reported them to the DAs’ offices. These 19 incidents affected 22 children and included forcible rape, sexual abuse by a DCF-contracted employee at a residential facility, multiple sexual abuses of children by family members, and various assaults on children. By not ensuring that all substantiated cases of sexual abuse are reported to the appropriate DA’s office, DCF may be preventing alleged abusers from being prosecuted.

Authoritative Guidance

Section 51B of Chapter 119 of the General Laws requires DCF to notify the appropriate DA’s office immediately when early evidence indicates that there is reasonable cause to believe that, as a result of abuse or neglect, a child has been physically and/or sexually abused or sexually exploited.

Reasons for Noncompliance

DCF has no internal controls, such as monitoring procedures including formalized meetings with DAs’ offices, to ensure that all incidents are reported as required. These meetings could help clarify areas of ambiguity regarding what is reportable and any other information that DAs’ offices need.

Recommendations

  1. DCF should update its policies and procedures to include clear and consistent criteria and reporting standards and should establish monitoring activities over all parties to ensure compliance with these standards.
  2. DCF should establish monitoring controls to ensure that its staff complies with its policies and procedures for reporting critical incidents to DAs’ offices.
  3. DCF should schedule regular meetings with DAs’ offices to ensure that the incidents it reports are applicable and that the DAs do not need additional information to help with their investigations.

Auditee’s Response

DCF agrees with the OSA’s recommendations and prior to the audit, the new administration had initiated the process of updating procedures for conducting District Attorney (DA) referrals and establishing monitoring controls. In February 2017 DCF implemented a revision to policy #85-012 “Policy for Referrals to the District Attorney and Local Law Enforcement Authority.” DCF area offices already conduct regular meetings and/or have regular conversations with the DAs that represent their catchment areas. DCF reviewed each incident cited by the OSA during the audit period (January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2015) with the local DCF area office. For each incident, we determined that the local District Attorney, local police, and area office were working collaboratively on the case even if a formal DA referral had not been completed.

Going forward, we will reinforce compliance with our updated policy to ensure that DA referrals are appropriately made. To accomplish this the DCF [Continuous Quality Improvement] Unit will use its structured case review instruments which include sections that identify intakes/responses requiring a Mandatory (or Discretionary) DA Referral, and whether that referral was made. Administered on a periodic basis, these instruments are scored and DA Referral findings are factored into the overall quality improvement feedback to DCF field offices.

Auditor’s Reply

DCF does not dispute that we found 19 incidents, affecting 22 children, of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or neglect that DCF determined had happened to children in its care but that were not formally reported to and received by DAs. However, DCF does state, “For each incident, we determined that the local District Attorney, local police, and area office were working collaboratively on the case even if a formal DA referral had not been completed.” This assertion is not supported by our audit work: the DAs’ offices themselves reported to us that they were never contacted either formally or informally by DCF and were unaware of each incident. In fact, once we presented case information to the DAs, some indicated that based on the information provided, they would have conducted investigations.

Based on its response, DCF is taking measures to address our concerns in this area.

Date published: December 7, 2017
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