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Dec 11, 4:51 PM EST

Governor, auditor spar over child welfare report



BOSTON (AP) -- Gov. Charlie Baker and state Auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, sparred Monday over a recently released audit that claimed Massachusetts' child welfare agency was unaware of or failed to report to prosecutors hundreds of injuries sustained by children in its care.

In a letter sent Monday to employees of the Department of Children and Families, Baker criticized Bump for basing her report on data from two or three years ago and discussing it "like it happened yesterday."

The suggestion that widespread victimization of children continues to go unnoticed at the agency "is not just unfortunate and inaccurate - it's irresponsible," the Republican governor wrote.

Bump responded by calling Baker's letter a "political statement," and said the agency had acknowledged that many of the underlying issues cited in the audit had not been corrected.

"The governor is denying a reality that DCF itself does not dispute," Bump said, in a statement.

The report made public Thursday by the auditor covered 2014, the year before Baker took office, and 2015, the first year of his administration. It cited 260 cases in which the agency had no record of injuries sustained by children within the system, including a teenager who suffered brain damage from a gunshot wound and a baby with first- and second-degree burns.

According to the audit, 19 other cases that DCF was aware of should have been reported to district attorneys for possible prosecution, but never were.

The administration has disputed the latter point, asserting that each of the 19 cases was properly reported to law enforcement.

The audit, Baker wrote, ignored many of the reforms implemented in the department during the last three years, along with $100 million in additional funding and the hiring of 350 more social workers.

"At a minimum, it would be fair to say that the DCF of 2017/2018 is nothing like the DCF of 2014/2015," he wrote. "Nothing."

Still, the governor acknowledged more work needs to be done, noting that the system serves about 50,000 children in difficult and complicated family situations.

One recommendation from auditors that DCF monitor Medicaid claims for possible evidence of child abuse would be considered by the administration, Baker said. But he added such data often is months old and misleading and could serve only as a "secondary information tool."

Bump said the audit wasn't trying to suggest that no improvements had been made during the last two years.

"This is not an indictment of the leadership nor the dedicated workers of the agency," she said. "It is a continuation of systemic flaws that we urge DCF and Governor Baker to address."

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