BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare met with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services regarding the child welfare division.

Louisiana lawmakers have been questioning DCFS officials for months after children died under the agency’s watch. New DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks has provided lawmakers with timelines for programs regarding recruitment and training.

Ricks said the agency continues to work on hiring with job fairs across the state. She said special teams have been created to help employees with large caseloads.

According to DCFS, officials have seen a 33 percent increase in caseload in Baton Rouge, in 6 months. 

When asked by Senator J. Rogers Pope about why there is an increase in cases, Ricks said a large number of serious cases involved drugs. She said she’s looking to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs in the home where children live.

“We really have to open up our mouths and help people to recognize the dangers to children in that situation, especially a toddler who puts everything in their mouth,” Ricks said.

The agency said nurses and DCFS in Baton Rouge are working together regarding substance-exposed newborns. Another initiative is neighborhood-level prevention efforts where families are directed to resources before the child welfare department is involved. DCFS officials said there are other prevention initiatives in development.

Ricks said in another meeting that she is focusing on reforming how abuse reports are handled.

Watch the second half of the meeting below: