BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD) – The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) addresses another failure in a child overdose case.
On October 21, 2022, an anonymous caller informed DCFS that the mother of 20-month-old J’ahrei Paul was using marijuana in the presence of her children. The case was assigned to a DCFS caseworker who recently resigned. On her last day she notified the manager that there was no contact on the case, eight days after the initial call was made. On Halloween, young Paul died from Fentanyl.
“That specific worker worked all weekend and took in three more kids, three removals,” said DCFS Secretary Marketa Walters. “By the time her information got entered, it just wasn’t picked up.”
During the investigation, it was revealed that the mother was incrassated in Texas and Paul was in the care of his father, who did not have a previous investigations as a perpetrator of abuse and/or neglect, but the question still stands as to why no one went to check on the toddler.
DCFS said their severe lack of staffing is preventing them from responding to the growing caseload in Baton Rouge. Asstistant Secretary of Child Welfare Rhenda Hodnett said in the past six months, the agency had 1,326 cases, a 32 percent increase
“If we just look at the month of September, as a comparison, it’s a sixty-three percent increase in the number of cases,” Hodnett said.
“Right now, we do not have enough staff to adequately address the crisis that we are in with the number of cases that are coming in and the number of staff that we have to respond to that,” Walters said.
Currently DCFS has nine permanently assigned investigators in Baton Rouge, which is just not enough for the case load. The recommend 10 new cases a month mean 169 have to be picked up by someone else.
“If we were fully staffed, we would need to have about 25 to 30 investigators to cover the Baton Rouge region.”
The death toll in children is rising at a painful rate. According to DCFS, child fatalities are up by 13 percent.
“I have been doing this for a very long time, I have never seen this number of fatalities in a single year in my career,” Walters said.
This all feels like déjà vu, as the death of another baby due to fentanyl occurred back in August, and this was also a case involving an alleged failure on DCFS’s part.
“After the first incident back in August there were some personnel changes that were made then, we are still in a very open investigation right now and I have no comment on any personnel actions right now,” Walters said.
These deaths happened when the department is already facing growing criticism forcing several panels with the legislature. This latest death prompted more change.
“This case assigner that will be one person who will do nothing but watch all of these cases that as they come in to make sure that they are being assigned quickly and appropriately to the right level of response,” Walters said.
But some wonder why this change wasn’t implemented until now.
“I don’t think it took a death for that to be a priority, I think we have been working what we presented to the legislature, the seven strategies that we presented were the big picture things that we knew we had to do to stabilize the state as well as Baton Rouge,” Walters said.
Many have called for Secretary Walters to resign from her post at DCFS, but she said she is not going anywhere.
“I serve at the pleasure of the Governor and as long as the Governor and I are in lock-step about this, I will be right here,” Walters said.