BOSTON (CBS/AP) – The embattled commissioner of the Department of Children and Families resigned Tuesday.
Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz, who oversees the DCF, announced at a news conference that Olga Roche stepped down because it is "not possible for the agency to move forward in this environment with her at the helm."
WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Doug Cope reports
Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters he agreed with the decision but did so "with some sadness."
"I think the time for the change is now. I don't think the time is right, but I think that it is necessary," Patrick said.
While accepting her resignation, Patrick continued to defend Roche.
"With some 33 years of experience in social services, Commissioner Roche has the expertise to lead this agency, but it clear from the events of this weekend that she can no longer command the trust of the public," he said.
Erin Deveney was named interim DCF Commissioner. She has been the chief of staff at the Registry of Motor Vehicles since February 2009.
"In this period of transition that will follow at DCF, I will ensure that the agency's top priority continues to be ensuring and protecting the children of the Commonwealth," Deveney said.
Republican Representative Shaunna O'Connell, a member of the committee investigating DCF, tells WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve, the change is long over- due.
"I think it is very unfortunate that three children had to die before Olga Roche resigned. She should have been fired."
Interim Commissioner Deveney is a candidate for the permanent job. Patrick pointed out it may be hard to find someone who wants this job. Not only because of the serious challenges in the current environment, but there are only seven months left in the Patrick Administration.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray called on Roche to resign Monday, citing a lack of leadership and the deaths of two children under agency supervision last week.
Patrick had defended Roche in recent months after the disappearance and death of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver of Fitchburg.
The governor claimed the ongoing calls for Roche to quit made it impossible for her to do her job.
"She cannot garner the support of the public or her line staff," he said, claiming that some on the line staff had been "resistant" to getting the job done.
The governor said Monday he no longer had confidence in the department and said Roche "has some questions to answer for me."
In February, two dozen Massachusetts lawmakers sent a letter to Patrick seeking Roche's resignation.
She also offered to quit then, but Patrick refused to accept the resignation.
THREE CHILD DEATHS
The three recent deaths involved a 4-week-old baby from Grafton, a 2-week-old baby from Fitchburg and Oliver, whose body was found by the side of a highway this month and whose family had been under DCF supervision at the time of his disappearance last year.
In the Grafton case, DCF has said that a fax sent to the agency by Grafton police concerning possible harm to the baby, Aliana Lavigne, was misplaced for six days.
Patrick on Tuesday faulted police for not calling the agency directly to report the information, but he also said the fax should have been acted on immediately.
"Somebody in that agency read that fax and didn't deal with it," the governor said. He later clarified that he did not know who specifically might have seen the fax when it arrived.
Polanowicz said the message, when it was discovered, was treated as a non-emergency call because there was no indication from the police report that the child was in any imminent danger.
The Grafton police chief acknowledged police should have called DCF, but he also defended his officers, saying the agency was trying to deflect blame.
In the third case, 2-week-old Bailey Irish of Fitchburg was brought to the hospital on Saturday morning by her parents and pronounced dead a short time later. The baby's family was being monitored by child welfare officials.
The deaths of the infants remain under investigation, according to the Worcester district attorney's office.
Jeremiah's case had prompted multiple inquiries even before the discovery of the child's body. Relatives said the boy had not been seen since September but police did not learn of the disappearance until months later. The boy's mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the case.
Three DCF employees were fired and a fourth was disciplined after an investigation found that a social worker assigned to the family had missed several scheduled visits and agency staff missed other opportunities to engage with the family.
WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve contributed to this report
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