- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - The head of the state Department of Children and Families, which has been under scrutiny since social workers lost track of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy, said a closed-door meeting Thursday with lawmakers examining the agency was productive.

Commissioner Olga Roche said the session with members of two legislative panels was conducted in private because of confidential details that could not be discussed during the lengthy public hearing that took place last month.

The meeting was not focused on Roche’s own future but on ways to strengthen the child protection system, she said.

“It was a very productive meeting and we continue to have conversations about ways in which we can continue to focus on the safety of our children and improve our system,” Roche told reporters as she left the office of state Rep. David Linsky, chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee.

Jeremiah Oliver has not been seen by family members since last September and is feared dead. Police said they did not learn he was missing until December. The child’s mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the case.

Three DCF employees - a social worker, a supervisor and an area manager - were fired after an internal investigation. Officials said a social worker did not make required monthly visits to the family.

Gov. Deval Patrick also requested an outside review of the agency by the Child Welfare League of America.

Legislators have not yet determined whether to propose new laws to address problems in the system, but have pledged to consider an increase in the department’s budget to help reduce the caseload of social workers.

Roche’s boss, state Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz, said Thursday he continued to have confidence in Roche’s ability to lead the agency.

“There’s very few people who have as much of a commitment to keeping children safe as the commissioner,” he said.

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