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Massachusetts children under state protection die from abuse with alarming frequency

Sisters Acia and Sophia Johnson died in 2008 in a South Boston house fire. The family had a history of violence and neglect, officials said.
Sisters Acia and Sophia Johnson died in 2008 in a South Boston house fire. The family had a history of violence and neglect, officials said.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file

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The disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver — missing and feared dead after social workers allegedly failed to check on him for months — is once again raising alarms that the state is unable to protect some of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents. Though Governor Deval Patrick last week described Oliver’s disappearance as a unique tragedy, state records show that children under the watch of the Department of Children and Families actually die with alarming regularity.

Since 2001, more than 95 Massachusetts children whose cases were overseen by state social workers have died directly or indirectly because of abuse or neglect, according to state statistics. Children who received services from state social workers in 2010 were about six times as likely as other Bay State children to die from maltreatment, according to the state’s own calculations.

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