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February 25, 2014

Early-childhood ed seen facing DCF issues

BOSTON — The state’s early education and care system suffers from some of the same technological impediments that prevent social workers at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) from working with “real-time” information, according to a top Patrick administration official.

“They are all legacy systems. Most of them are upwards of a decade old,” Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber said, describing the agency’s computer networks during a briefing Monday on recommendations made by a special commission on Dec. 31, 2013.

The early education department has a lot of data about providers and licensees who serve infants, toddlers and preschoolers but its field staffers often need to return to their office computers to obtain it or enter data on paper forms.

“We need to be really taking advantage of mobile devices,” he said.

Investigations into DCF since the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver have raised concerns about agency understaffing and an inability of social workers to access current information. Mentioning the focus on IT solutions at DCF, Weber said technology upgrades are also needed at his agency.

“I’m optimistic that this is getting a lot of focus. It’s a very important recommendation,” he said.

A 2013 Child Care Aware report ranks Massachusetts as second in the nation for child care program standards, but 48th for program oversight, in part due to program-to-licensor ratios far outside of the group’s recommended range.

The Department of Early Education and Care licenses and regulates 11,000 family, group and school-age early education and care programs and nearly 700 residential care programs and adoption/foster care placement agencies.

To reach recommended program-to-licensor ratios, the department would need 70 additional family child care licensors and 31 center-based licensors, at costs of $3.85 million and $1.7 million, respectively. The department currently employs 27 family child care licensors and 28 center-based care licensors, according to the commission.

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