Despite months of disturbing reports of alleged neglect by employees at the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has still failed to reform the agency and solve its serious problems. And now, her Administration faces even more criticism.
In a hearing last week before the Rhode Island House of Representatives Oversight Committee, state lawmakers were “outraged” to discover that the DCYF is still employing a worker who, according to the Providence Journal, recommended a child who died last year “after suffering multiple broken bones and human bites, be allowed to go home with his parents despite multiple indications of significant mental health issues.” One Democrat lawmaker blasted the DCYF’s lack of accountability, saying, “at the end of the day, our children are dying … and there’s no realistic, appropriate answers being given.” To make matters worse, the DCYF’s director noted how badly understaffed the agency remains, claiming that caseworkers are “still drowning” despite new hires.
Raimondo has spent months hiding behind flimsy excuses instead of combatting the DCYF’s problems with substantial action. As a result, the DCYF remains plagued by scandalous reports of alleged neglect and transparency issues, as well as understaffing problems that even Raimondo’s appointed agency director admits have caseworkers “drowning.” Rhode Island deserves better.
The social worker who recommended that Tobi Olawusi, the infant who died in 2017 after suffering multiple broken bones and human bites, be allowed to go home with his parents despite multiple indications of significant mental health issues is still employed by the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Child Advocate Jennifer Griffith appeared before a panel of lawmakers Thursday to review the agency’s failures in recent child deaths. The hours-long hearing often turned emotional as lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee demanded to know how so many serious missteps occurred. Some lawmakers said they were outraged that the worker was still employed.
None of the children whose cases were reviewed in the hearing, including Tobi, were identified. But Tobi was the subject of a Providence Journal investigation examining the “safety plan” procedures the DCYF uses to allow children to go home when the competency of a parent is in question. The child’s mother, Arinola Olawusi, has been charged with cruelty or neglect. His father, Olalekan Olawusi, has been charged with first-degree child abuse and has apparently skipped bail.
Griffith spoke in general terms about mental health concerns noted by doctors and the mother’s inability to follow through with scheduled treatment. Yet, she said, a DCYF social worker reported to a Family Court judge that the mother was doing well — ultimately leading to the child going home under the condition that he never be left alone with his mother.
‘The point is DCYF knew full well that this woman had problems, and they were big ones,’ Griffith said.
Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr., D-Warwick, asked about the status of the social worker. DCYF Director Trista Piccola said the agency determined not to terminate the worker after a review. She declined to elaborate further on a personnel matter.
‘How bad do things have to be to terminate someone?’ Solomon asked. ‘It’s terrible behavior … Just looking at it you can tell something is going to happen.’
‘At the end of the day, our children are dying … and there’s no realistic, appropriate answers being given,’ Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, said.
Piccola has bolstered front-line staff significantly since she took over as director last year. In 2017, some 143 front-line staff were hired, 100 of which were new jobs. But on Thursday, she said the agency is still facing problems with workload.
In the past six months, the agency’s investigations have gone up 20 percent — in part because the agency is now investigating more reports of potential abuse. Removals of children have gone up 15 percent in the past six months, she said.
‘We are still drowning’ Piccola said.
‘Just because jobs were filled does not mean that they don’t need more help,’ Griffith added.”