Massachusetts Child Welfare Chief Olga Roche Resigns Following Death Of Two Babies

BOSTON - The secretary of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that Olga Roche has resigned as commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

Secretary John Polanowicz announced he accepted Roche's resignation during a press conference Tuesday.

"I agree the commissioner should step aside," said Gov. Deval Patrick, who was also in attendance. "I do so with some sadness, but agree it's time."

Gov. Patrick went on to say he thought the time for change is now and that he doesn't think it is right, but he thinks it is necessary.

"Every time there is a turn in the events at DCF, it has focused automatically without there being a direct connection, or whether or not there was a direct connection between a failure and a fault, on the resignation of the commissioner and that makes it impossible for the agency to do the job that they have to do," said Gov. Patrick.

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Erin Deveney, who the governor said has been with DCF for 30 days, will serve as interim commissioner. The governor said Deveney has management experience with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The announcement comes one day after Polanowicz met with Roche and Gov. Patrick to discuss the recent deaths of two babies. The governor said he was reviewing information provided to him in that meeting before deciding on what is next.

The meeting was held amid renewed calls for Roche's resignation from some of the state's top lawmakers. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray both called for Roche to step down.

"As Speaker of the House, I think it is incumbent upon me to call upon commissioner of DCF Olga Roche to resign," DeLeo said at a news conference outside his State House office Monday.

Citing a complete failure of management, DeLeo said it was high time that Roche stepped down, especially now after the deaths of two babies in Fitchburg and Grafton.

Authorities say the family of a 2-week old Fitchburg baby who died over the weekend was being monitored by state child welfare officials. In the second case, a DCF spokeswoman says a fax from Grafton police about possible harm to a 4-week-old who later died was misplaced for six days.

The body of a third child, 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg, was found off a highway in central Massachusetts this month. Jeremiah's family was also under DCF supervision at the time of his disappearance.

Authorities say the family of a Fitchburg baby who died over the weekend was being monitored by state child welfare officials. They say 2-week old Bailey Irish was brought to the hospital on Saturday morning by her parents. She was pronounced dead a short time later.

In an unrelated case, a DCF spokeswoman says a fax from Grafton police about possible harm to another infant who later died, 4-week-old Aliana Lavigne, was misplaced for six days.

The agency said it's unacceptable that the fax went undiscovered. The department is trying to determine the best method of communicating reports electronically including linking faxes up to email for more timely delivery.

But the agency also said mandated reporters are required to verbally report allegations of abuse or neglect to DCF — something they said police failed to do.

The Grafton police chief acknowledged police should have called DCF, but he also defended his officers, saying the agency is trying to deflect blame.

In the third case, Jeremiah was last seen in September but wasn't reported missing until December. Police said his death appeared to be a homicide. The boy's mother and her boyfriend are facing charges in connection with his disappearance but not his death.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Gov. Patrick said his confidence in the DCF has been "rattled."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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