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The Department of Early Education and Care Did Not Always Review or Initiate Investigations of Reports of Suspected Abuse and Neglect of Children in Its Licensed Programs.

Audit calls on EEC and DCF to improve their processes for communicating, reviewing, storing, and retrieving reports of abuse or neglect.

Table of Contents

Overview

The Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) did not always review or initiate investigations of 51A reports at the residential programs it licensed. We compared a list of 2,087 51A reports from the audit period, which we created from the files provided to us by EEC, to the Department of Children and Families’ (DCF’s) list of such reports and noted that there were 447 51A reports on DCF’s list that EEC could not account for. Of the 447 51A reports that were not in EEC’s possession, we identified 55 that EEC had no record of receiving and/or investigating. We then contacted DCF, and that department determined that 19 of the 55 reports had been communicated to EEC as documented in the 51A report, the 51B report, and/or email (see "DCF Comments" below).

Without a record of receiving and/or investigating 51A reports, EEC cannot determine whether children are at risk or ensure that programs comply with the health and safety standards in Section 3 of Title 606 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR).

A few examples of the allegations in the 19 reports follow:

  • Multiple children were allegedly exposed to inappropriate FaceTime conversations where a program employee shared videos of her boyfriend exposing himself.
  • A program employee allegedly sexually abused a resident. Additionally, the program employee offered another resident, who observed the activity but declined to participate, $50 and marijuana not to tell anyone.
  • Sexual abuse allegedly took place when a staff member made verbal advances to a resident and made inappropriate comments about the resident’s sexual experiences. The staff member never returned to the program after the initial allegation.
  • A program employee allegedly physically abused a child by placing the child in a restraint that was, according to the 51A report, “not ideal” when the child was kicking and spitting at staff members.

Authoritative Guidance

The regulation 606 CMR 3.04(5)(c) states,

The licensee shall notify [EEC] as well as any other state agency or referral source which requires such notification immediately after learning that a 51A report has been filed alleging abuse or neglect of a child at the program or during program activities, including those alleging parental abuse or neglect of a child who resides at the program together with his or her teen parent. A report of abuse or neglect shall initiate an investigation by the Department.

Section 9 of Chapter 15D of the Massachusetts General Laws states,

[EEC] shall promptly investigate and evaluate any notice transmitted to the department by the department of children and families under subsection (l) of section 51B of chapter 119. [See Appendix.] Such investigation and evaluation shall determine whether the facility being operated by a person subject to licensure or approval under this section is being operated in compliance with this chapter and within the rules and regulations established under this chapter.

Reason for Noncompliance

The process used by DCF and EEC for communicating, reviewing, storing, and retrieving 51A reports lacks adequate internal controls. This could result in DCF not sending all 51A reports to EEC and in EEC not ensuring that all 51A reports it receives are properly recorded, reviewed, and investigated.

DCF Comments

During our audit, we notified DCF of the 55 51A reports that EEC had not investigated and that EEC said DCF had not sent to it. DCF conducted an investigation of its case records for each of the 55 reports and told us the following:

  • DCF never sent 26 of the 51A reports to EEC.
  • Nineteen of the 51A reports had been communicated to EEC as documented in the 51A report, the 51B report, and/or email.
  • DCF emailed 10 of these reports to EEC.
  • For the other 9 reports, DCF communicated with EEC as documented in an associated 51A or 51B report.
  • DCF appropriately did not submit the remaining 10 51A reports to EEC because the statute did not require it to do so; they involved children who were not residents in a program or people who were 18 years or older.

After its investigation, DCF forwarded all relevant case files to EEC for follow-up and sent us a response that included the following information:

DCF and EEC are in active communication and are collaborating on technological solutions to support a more efficient exchange of information between both agencies. DCF and EEC are exploring the feasibility of IT solutions including automated email sends and/or an automated interface between the departments’ data systems.

In the interim, DCF has revised its current protocols and procedures and established an administrative gatekeeper function responsible for sending and documenting 51As sent to EEC. Routine internal audits will also be performed to ensure compliance with information sharing requirements.

Recommendation

EEC should work with DCF to establish adequate internal controls over the 51A reporting and investigation process.

Auditee’s Response

The report does not adequately delineate between the role of EEC and the role of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in tracking and investigating reports of abuse or neglect and overstates EEC’s responsibility in pursuing all 51A Reports. . . . It is instructive to understand the related but disparate statutory and regulatory responsibilities of both EEC as well as DCF. M.G.L. Chapter 119, Section 51A, requires mandated reporters, who in their professional capacity, have reasonable cause to believe any child is suffering from physical or emotional injury, to immediately communicate these concerns to DCF and to file a written report detailing the concerns of abuse and neglect with DCF within 48 hours. The reports detailing the allegations of abuse and neglect are commonly referred to as “51A Reports.” In addition to the mandated reporter requirements for staff in EEC licensed programs under the General Laws, EEC’s regulations (606 CMR 3.04(5)) also require licensed programs to immediately notify EEC after learning that a 51A Report has been filed alleging abuse or neglect of a child at the program or during program activities. This regulation serves as an additional safety net for reporting and investigating allegations of abuse and neglect involving children in EEC licensed programs.

If an allegation of abuse or neglect of a child placed at an EEC licensed program or during program activities is substantiated or supported by DCF following an investigation conducted pursuant to M.G.L. c. 119, § 51B, DCF provides the investigation report, commonly referred to as a “51B Report” to EEC to further assist in the investigation of the incident related to the EEC licensed program.

Upon receipt of any 51A Report or 51B Report from DCF, EEC must first determine if allegations contained in the reports impact children participating in EEC licensed programs. EEC’s authority to investigate alleged incidents of abuse or neglect of children in the Commonwealth is limited to the domain of the licensed program, ensuring full compliance with all relevant state and federal laws and regulation. EEC is not responsible for the investigation of individuals reported in a “51A” or “51B.” EEC does not evaluate or investigate “51As” or “51Bs” outside of its jurisdiction, as determined by statute and regulation. EEC and DCF continue to enhance coordination across our two systems of tracking investigations by refining operating procedures and designing new technology solutions.

Due to a variety of factors, there are often multiple 51As associated with a single investigation at EEC. DCF may receive multiple 51A Reports related to the same alleged incident of abuse or neglect. For example, multiple mandated reporters (a teacher, a licensed program, a parent, etc.) can report an incident to DCF which are consolidated into a single investigation under M.G.L. c. 119, § 51B. EEC evaluates each 51A and 51B Report received from DCF, but may conduct a single investigation into a program involved in the incident.

In regard to the specific cases outlined in the Audit Report, EEC has determined that all of them fall into one of the following categories:

  • The case cited was one of many 51A Reports consolidated in a single investigation . . .
  • The case cited was reviewed and/or investigated by EEC, per statutory requirements, or
  • The case cited by the Auditor did not provide enough information to identify an EEC report or investigation.

Auditor’s Reply

EEC did not provide any documentation to substantiate the results of its analysis of the 55 51A reports we describe as not received, reviewed, or investigated. Some of the information provided by EEC seems to conflict with the analysis provided to us by DCF. We understand that some 51A reports might be associated with investigations related to other 51A reports. However, our review of the Licensing Education Analytical Database (LEAD) determined that there was no mention of any case associated with the specific people discussed in any of the 51A reports. Even if a 51A report were consolidated with others into a single investigation, information regarding an individual identified in any one report should be available in LEAD.

Also, EEC’s assertion that we “did not provide enough information to identify an EEC report or investigation” is incorrect. We provided EEC with a 51A report type, identification number, incident date, program name, and approval date for each of the 55 reports that we determined to be missing. In addition, DCF could have made copies of these 51A reports available to EEC to review for any additional information EEC needed to complete its review and/or investigation.

As stated in our report, the process that DCF and EEC use for communicating, reviewing, storing, and retrieving 51A reports lacks adequate internal controls. This is evidenced by our analysis of cases that were recorded in DCF’s records but not EEC’s, or in EEC’s but not DCF’s. This issue can result in EEC being unable to ensure that that all referrals from DCF are properly recorded, reviewed, and investigated.

Date published: May 5, 2020
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