BOSTON (AP) - Two dozen Massachusetts lawmakers have sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick seeking the resignation of the head of the state child welfare agency over concerns the department is failing to protect children in its care.
The letter, written by Republican state Reps. Ryan Fattman of Webster and Leah Cole of Peabody, cited what they called a mishandling of cases by the Department of Children and Families. Eight Democrats signed Thursday's letter asking for the resignation of Commissioner Olga Roche.
The agency has been under scrutiny since social workers lost track of Jeremiah Oliver, a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who has not been seen by relatives since September and is feared dead. His mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the case.
"Both Democrats and Republicans agree that Commissioner Roche has not offered a comprehensive solution to solving the epic failures of the Department of Children and Families, and it is time for some leadership that will make protecting children its number one priority," Fattman said in a statement.
Patrick has strongly defended Roche in the past and did so again Friday, telling WCVB-TV that Roche has decades of experience with and knowledge of child welfare issues, far more than those who have publicly called for her resignation.
"Well I hear it and I understand it, it's kind of a customary thing in politics that when someone or something goes wrong people call for someone's head on a platter," Patrick said.
Given the challenges currently facing the agency, the Democratic governor added, it would be a "terrible time to change up the leadership."
To bolster support for Roche, the administration on Friday also released to media outlets more than a dozen testimonials in support of the commissioner from child welfare specialists and children's advocacy organizations in Massachusetts.
The letter from the lawmakers referenced a report from the state's child advocate that found that DCF social workers missed nearly one in five required home visits over a recent 12-month period. Administration officials said that figure was misleading because it does not account for visits held in other settings, such as schools, and lag times in paperwork.
Among the eight Democrats who signed the letter was Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton, House chairman of the Legislature's public safety committee.
"Through the course of the investigation into DCF procedures, disturbing information revealed a severe lack of oversight which has led to the mistreatment, and in some cases possible loss of life, of too many innocent children under the Commonwealth's custody and care," Naughton said in a statement.
Other signers of the letter were House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading; and Reps. Jonathan Zlotnik, D-Gardner; Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg; Matthew Beaton, R-Shrewsbury; Peter Durant, R-Charlton; Kimberly Ferguson, R-Holden; Paul Frost, R-Auburn; Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge; George Peterson, R-Grafton; Todd Smola, R-Palmer; James O'Day, D-West Boylston; Anne Gobi, D-Spencer; John Mahoney, D-Worcester; Daniel Donahue, D-Worcester; Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster; Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk; Shaunna O'Connell, R-Taunton; James Lyons, R-North Andover; Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica; Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman; and Nick Boldyga, R-Southwick.