BOSTON — State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump today released an audit of the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) that recommends the agency seek more information relative to the incidence of child sexual abuse from the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
The audit, which examined and found no failures in certain aspects of OCA’s administration of critical incident reports and complaint line contacts for the period of July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018, notes the need for additional reporting to OCA regarding allegations of abuse, including sexual abuse of a child.
Bump’s audit explained that DCF is only required to report to OCA substantiated incidents of abuse or neglect that take place in institutional settings, such as licensed preschools and daycares, foster care environments, group homes, residential treatment programs, elementary and secondary schools, and youth correctional facilities. However, similar incidents of abuse against children in non-institutional settings, such as those that occur in a home with a biological parent or legal guardian, are not subject to the same reporting requirements. The audit characterizes this issue as potentially inhibiting OCA’s ability to effectively advocate for all children in the Commonwealth who are receiving services from state agencies.
From July 1, 2017 through October 31, 2017, DCF received 1,505 reports of sexual abuse of a child that were deemed serious enough to warrant further investigation. However, of these cases, 1,482 (98%) were committed in non-institutional settings and therefore DCF was not required to notify OCA of them, and OCA was not required to track them. The audit notes OCA might be able to better meet its responsibility of informing the public about how the Commonwealth can improve its services to and for children and their families if DCF was also mandated to provide OCA with reports on instances of child abuse and neglect that occur in non-institutional settings.
“We all must do everything we can to protect vulnerable children in the Commonwealth. It is imperative that the Office of the Child Advocate receive information about all serious allegations of abuse or neglect of children, regardless of whether an incident takes place in a home with a parent or in a state-run foster care facility,” said Bump of the audit. “This data will allow the Child Advocate to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of patterns and trends related to child abuse and allow her to work with lawmakers and law enforcement to take steps to address this problem.”
The Office of the Child Advocate was established in 2008 as an independent child protection agency that serves children and families across the Commonwealth. During the audit period, the OCA had seven employees and in fiscal year 2018 received $800,000 in state funding. The office is responsible for ensuring children in the Commonwealth receive appropriate, timely and quality services with full respect for their human rights.