Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Heartbreaking Story: Jeremiah Oliver

5 year old Jeremiah Oliver

Here in Massachusetts a heartbreaking story has dominated the headlines the last few weeks: the story of little Jeremiah Oliver, who has been missing since September and is feared dead.

The story is horrible all around. The mother lived with a boyfriend who was beating her and beating the children. The family was under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families but the social worker ignored her responsibilities and hadn't seen the children since last spring. The supervisors knew this and not only allowed this but...gave the social worker a promotion and a raise!

The social worker was so, so very negligent. She hadn't visited the children in the better part of a year. The little boy's teacher had also called the social worker to say that the mom told her that the boy had moved to Florida to live with the grandparents. But the social worker never followed up. The little boy was probably already dead by then but there were siblings and they kept getting abused for the rest of the year.

It wasn't until the sister told a counselor at her school in December that she was being beaten and that her brother was missing. Then finally the police got involved. The boyfriend and mom were arrested, the children put into foster care and a search went underway to locate the little boy. He is feared dead. And at this point his body will probably never be found.

It is so heartbreaking to think of what this little boy went through in the last few months of his life. No one even tried to keep this handsome little boy safe. Not the mother who stood by and watched while the children she loved were savagely beaten. Not DCF who really should have known better. Not the extended family who cried on camera to the media after the fact but did nothing when it could have actually made a difference. No one.

When Christopher was still a foster child, I had to have monthly visits with his social worker and she would not allow me to stop, no matter how difficult they were. She told me she had to see Christopher every single month, even if it was just for five minutes, to ensure he was being kept safe. In our case, it was tough because every time Christopher saw her, he thought she was coming to take him away so I'd have to suffer through terrible outbursts for days afterwards as he dealt with all the emotions. I understood though and thought well, if this helped to keep other kids safe then we'll just have to suck it up for now.

Christopher last week on vacation
Christopher looks so much like Jeremiah and all I could think while this was all happening was how this could have been him, if not for the grace of God. Christopher saw a picture of Jeremiah on the news when we were in a restaurant a few weeks ago and he even asked me if that was a picture of himself. I almost cried at the thought.

There are 40,000 children under the care of the Department of Children and Families here in Massachusetts. 30,000 are children receiving services, meaning that social workers are supposed to visit all those children on a monthly basis. We simply do not have enough social workers to manage those levels of responsible care and I wonder how many more children are falling through the cracks because the social worker caseloads are so overwhelming.

My friend who has a pre-adoptive child in the same Fitchburg DCF officed, asked her little guy's social worker about this case. He told her that the caseloads are truly overwhelming but that this didn't surprise him about this particular social worker. Lovely. So just how many social workers are out there like this particular social worker? That's the million dollar question.

I hope Governor Patrick decides to hire more social workers and make sure they are held accountable for their responsibilities. That's the only way cases like Jeremiah Oliver will never happen again. This system is broken and so poorly funded and it's the kids who end up suffering in the worst possible way. Rest in peace little Jeremiah. My heart breaks for you and all the other kids out there like you.

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