But state Auditor Suzanne Bump yesterday pointed out areas where the agency may still be falling short. The report also said there were 118 incidents of child sexual abuse that weren't reported to the Office of the Child Advocate, a state watchdog agency.
"He has long-prioritized DCF and he views protecting vulnerable children as a central mission of state government", Whitney Dow Ferguson, the spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The audit also found that the DCF was not categorizing incidents involving sexual abuse as critical incidents. "This audit found that despite reforms, victimization of children in DCF's care continues to occur unnoticed by the agency".
These incidents included two male employees at different DCF-contracted residential facilities who sexually abused three girls each; a 10-year-old who was raped by his father; a 4-year-old who was sexually abused by her mother; and a 17-year-old who was gang-raped by five assailants.
Most of the audit covered a period of time before the Baker administration ordered new procedures at DCF in late 2015 following the deaths of several children the agency was supposed to be watching. "It defies logic", Bump said in a press release.
Sudders said every alleged sexual assault is considered a "serious incident"; the allegations are investigated by the department and referred to law enforcement for investigation and prosecution.
To reach that conclusion auditors dug through MassHealth claims data, and said DCF should be routinely and proactively doing the same.
According to the department, they're seeking to streamline the child fatality reporting process as a way to get more timely reports to the Office of the Child Advocate. It will also look into her suggestion to use MassHealth claims data.
"The department's priority is to protect our most vulnerable children", a DCF spokesperson said in a statement, "and it relies on mandated reporters, such as health care providers, physicians and teachers, to provide us with up-to-the-moment information about serious instances of suspected abuse and neglect so that we can respond with the urgency they deserve and ensure safety". DCF said in all 19 cases the local DA was consulted even if a formal referral hadn't been completed (a claim Bump disputed).
The union representing DCF social workers said it will continue to work with the agency to implement necessary reforms. "However, it is concerning that this report did not take into account the experience and viewpoint of child protective workers, including those involved in cases or examples discussed in the report".