Vermont News Briefs

No policy changes expected after alleged sexual assault involving state social worker

An alleged sexual assault by a Vermont social worker on a child in Maine is an isolated case and does not warrant any changes in personnel policy, a state official says.

Jeffrey Parfitt, a 26-year-old Middlebury resident who’s been employed as a caseworker by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) since 2011, is alleged to have “performed an unnecessary and inappropriate examination” of a child whose case he managed. The complaint was filed in July in Bangor, Maine, where Parfitt had traveled to conduct a follow-up visit.

DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said the alleged incident is unprecedented in the department’s history, and he doesn’t think it requires any reconsideration of personnel policies. “There’s no record of this ever happening previously,” Yacovone said.

DCF does background checks before hiring staff, Yacovone said. “We do the same kind of background checks that other people in the protective services do. We check criminal records and references.” But, he added, “There’s not a lot you can do if someone hasn’t violated something. They are not going to pop up in the system, so you try to do your best to judge character.”

In order to prevent crimes like the one Parfitt allegedly committed, Yacovone says DCF would have to double its cadre of social workers, which would be prohibitively expensive. The commissioner is also reluctant to put other restrictive policies in place because he’s worried they would strain the relationships between social workers and the children they serve.

“I don’t want to put in place protocols that will make those [relationships] so formal and rigid that kids won’t feel comfortable interacting with their social worker,” he said.

It’s not uncommon, according to Yacovone, for caseworkers to travel to border states to check on the children under their supervision.

The news is a blow to the department — “Everybody is devastated by it,” Yacovone said — but he doesn’t think it will permanently damage the department’s reputation or affect its ability to reach out to families who need services.

“It would be wrong of people to use a one-brush approach and assume all social workers are bad because of one incident, but most people understand that … I think there’s a lot of respect and trust despite one alleged tragic incident.”

Parfitt is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case, and Yacovone says DCF has followed up with other children in Parfitt’s caseload.

According to a news release from the Bangor Police Department, two detectives interviewed Parfitt on Aug. 14, and the case was presented to the Grand Jury in Bangor on Aug. 28.

Alicia Freese

About Alicia

Alicia Freese is VTDigger's political and education reporter. After receiving a B.A. in international relations from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., she worked as a media associate at ReThink Media, an organization building communications capacity amongst progressive foreign policy organizations. While out West, she also wrote for Bay Nature Magazine, a publication covering environmental news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Inspired by the investigative reporting she observed in the foreign policy arena, but eager to return to her home state and re-immerse herself in Vermont politics, she naturally ended up at VTDigger’s doorstep.

Email: [email protected]

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