For the last couple of months there was a story making the news in Boston about a little girl who had been dumped into a trash bag and washed up on the shores of Deer Island, the harbor island on which the city of Boston runs the large wastewater treatment plants that keep Boston Harbor from becoming the sewer that it once was. Although many efforts were made to identify this baby girl until people finally figured out that her name was Bella Bond.
As so often happens, it turns out that she was abused and eventually killed by her mother’s boyfriend.
It wasn’t the first time that something like this happened. People in Massachusetts were outraged that this family had received services from the Department of Children and Families (formerly and better known as the Department of Social Services), the Commonwealth’s child protection agency. The blame game began.
Although people won’t want to hear this, the truth is that even if we funded the Department of Children and Families properly — which we have not — they still would not be able to save all the children that they should. The reason for that is simple: it is just to hard to predict what people are going to do.
My friend Frank, who is a Professor of Psychology and wrote a superb book on the hysteria surrounding juvenile sex offending, has pointed out to me that when it comes to the shooters — guys like Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Adam Lanza, James Eagan Holmes — these young men all have many attributes in common. And, they have those same attributes in common with thousands of other young men who never become shooters. Who never, in fact, really hurt anyone.
In short, the “science” of predicting human behavior at this point is only guess work.
This is why the social workers at the Department of Children and Families cannot save all the children that they should.
But it also would help if the Department of Children and Families were properly funded.
Consider this: because the Massachusetts government as a whole has a structural imbalance brought by the voters lowering the income tax thorough an initiative petition*, the Governor of Massachusetts proposed an early retirement bill that the legislature enacted. This shed some people from Massachusetts state government payrolls, including a lot of social work managers at the Department of Children and Families.
Or consider this: I recently did a consulting gig at the Department of Youth Services (the juvenile justice agency of the Commonwealth, and a sister agency to DCF) where I had worked years ago. One of the things I found was an absolutely dismal state of computer technology. So, for example, the Department had:
- Desktop computers that were still running the Windows XP operating system, which was released in 2001, and has not been supported my Microsoft since 2009.
- Desktop computers that were still running Internet Explorer 6, also released in 2001.
- Desktop computers that were still running Microsoft Office 2003, released in 2003.
The Department also had mobile log-in profiles that would theoretically allow me to log into my computer at remote DYS locations, instead of having the profile on my office computer, as most desktop computers have. The result is that it would literally take the computer 15 minutes to load completely, and once loaded it was practically impossible to do anything that involved the Internet, because most websites have technology that is not supported by IE6.
Since I have my own equipment as a consultant, I simply used my laptop instead. My laptop ran Windows 8.1 on a solid state drive — I have since upgraded to Windows 10 — and it takes about 5 seconds to boot. Compare those 5 seconds to the 15 minutes it took my desktop to boot. That means that my laptop, with all of the latest browser technology installed, literally loaded 180 times faster than the DYS desktop.
The moral of this story is that agencies like DYS and DCF actually need technology that works. I understand that some DCF social workers have iPads, but those iPads won’t help much unless they tethered to a network that really performs. And I can guarantee you that they are not. So when it comes to staffing, when it comes to technology, when it comes to infrastructure, DCF needs to be supported in the way that any modern business is supported.
Then the social workers at the Department of Children and Families would at least have a fighting chance to get their job done.