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DCF independent investigation: What took so long?

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BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) -- The Patrick administration is now paying the Washington D.C. based group, Child Welfare Action League, $40,000 to conduct an independent review of the Department of Children and Families in the wake of the Jeremiah Oliver case.

FOX 25 obtained a letter sent to area DCF managers Thursday, which outlines best practices.

Gov. Deval Patrick is sticking by his assertion that there's no systemic problem within DCF. Some are wondering why it took so long for this administration to bring in an outside look.

It's a complete turnaround for Patrick. Suddenly he's on board with a full, independent review of the embattled DCF. Patrick is brushing off criticism he's caving to mounting pressure.

"You can characterize and will characterize my responses anyway you want. I said then what I say now, which is that systemic failure doesn't explain what happened in the Oliver case," Patrick said.

Authorities were alerted to abuse in the Oliver home on Dec. 2, by the boy's 7-year-old sister. It took five weeks for this administration to ask for the review. Five weeks, plus a daily drumbeat of stories on allegations of DCF mismanagement.

Take the Northbridge school superintendent, who wrote a letter to the agency reportedly complaining social workers ignored abuse and neglect reports, and even closed cases because parents wouldn't cooperate.

Patrick maintains it's not a systemic problem, but there are serious questions about accountability.

When FOX 25 Political Reporter Sharman Sacchetti asked why it took so long for Patrick to come around, he said, "Well it's not that it's taken me long to come around to anything."

"I still believe that system failure does not explain what happened in the Oliver case," added the governor.

Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz tells us the administration started talking with this outside agency shortly after the Oliver case.

If that's true, they never let the public know about it.

We do know, DCF conducted its own review and the state's Office of the Child Advocate, who is appointed by the governor, is doing an investigation.

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill will also hold hearings on the agency starting Jan. 23.

The union representing social workers tells FOX 25 they welcome an independent review, but also repeated what they've been saying, that they want a significant investment and additional staffing to address what they call the existing caseload crisis.

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