Missing five-year-old sparks questions about Massachusetts child welfare agency

WOOSTER, Mass. -- In Massachusetts, a five-year-old boy named Jeremiah has been missing for four months and is feared dead.

His mother has been charged with child endangerment, but Jeremiah was supposed to be under the protection of the state's child welfare agency.

Massachusetts child welfare authorities -- who were responsible for monitoring the family for years – did not even notice until December.

 

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Jeremiah's mother claimed he was in Florida
CBS News
 

"If they would have done a better job, he would have still been here with us," said Jeremiah's uncle, Sandrino Oliver

Investigators say Jeremiah's mother, Elsa Oliver, and her boyfriend, Alberto Sierra, claimed he was in Florida, a story welfare workers never checked out. 

Massachusetts lawmakers want answers from the Department of Children and Families, which had investigated at least three reports of abuse in the home since 2011. But the caseworker failed to conduct monthly visits with Jeremiah, and recommended closing the case last year.

The caseworker also failed to make regular visits on eight of the other 18 cases she was handling.

In a hearing on Thursday, Commissioner Olga Roche had no defense. 

"This was a unique circumstance of a social worker, a supervisor and a manager who failed to do their duties," she said.

 

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Commissioner Olga Roche said agency employees failed in their responsibilities
CBS News
 

Three people were fired. The department also ordered a visit to all 36,000 children in its care, and is re-evaluating its current policy, which is to keep at-risk kids like Jeremiah in their homes. 

 Krystian King has been a case worker for 16 years.

 

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Caseworker Krystian King
CBS News
 

"The higher the caseload, the more difficult it is to really ensure the safety of children," King said.

The agency insists it has accounted for all the children in its care. Jeremiah's case is being investigated --as a homicide.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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