DCFS making immediate changes after toddler’s death, amid sweeping investigation
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The head of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) says the agency is making immediate policy changes amid public outcry over its handling of cases.
DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters announced the agency will operate with new guidelines in the way it responds to certain cases. Those changes were announced after an explosive hearing Monday, Aug. 8.
“I am heartbroken over this child’s death. I am heartbroken at the loss of any child, especially one that has had some contact with our agency,” said Secretary Walters.
“I am as outraged as you all are and the public is in general that parents would perpetrate this kind of violence against innocent children and that our system was not sufficient to prevent it,” Rhenda Hodnett, assistant secretary for Child Welfare added.
Lawmakers on the state senate’s Select Committee on Women and Children came down hard on those in charge of the agency, after the overdose death of two-year-old Mitchell Robinson, in addition to the arrest of Michael Hadden, a 52-year-old accused of sexually abusing children in his care.
In Robinson’s case, sources told the 9News Investigators that a doctor reached out to DCFS twice after the toddler was sent to the emergency room in the span of a few months and treated with Narcan. Despite those incidents, the child was returned to his caregiver’s custody and later died of an overdose. At this point, it’s unclear why the baby was repeatedly sent home with his mother. According to procedure, a call like that is the highest priority level which requires immediate action and face-to-face contact within 48 hours. Senator Katrina says there is no excuse for that to not happen.
“This is not a slip through the cracks. This is not a heavy caseload. These type of things are negligence at its finest,” said Senator Katrina Jackson (D)- Monroe. “It’s almost criminal for whoever has this case… it is to me.”
While they did not admit any wrongdoing with how they handled the case, officials with DCFS did announce it will respond immediately to any call they get from a hospital regarding a child under three years old.
“It has always been a concern that when we get a call from a hospital that’s always a pretty high response time, but for children under three if there is any call from a hospital, that will now be a priority no questions asked, we will go,” said Walters. “I can say that it’s complicated and that there are no real easy answers. Every case is different and sometimes hospitals give different information. Sometimes it’s a doctor calling with very specific information and sometimes it’s a clerical person calling for a doctor that gives cryptic notes. So it’s hard to say that every time it’s been right or wrong but because of the crisis that we have with drugs in our state, we will go.”
The head of the agency also says there will also be discipline because of what happened to the toddler.
“We will be taking disciplinary action but I won’t speak to any specifics of that,” Walters added.
One dire problem officials with the agency point to is the lack of staff and experience to handle the tens of thousands of calls they receive every year. Officials say that means managers have to help take on cases which means there’s no one to focus on oversight in some instances.
“Not having enough people to do the work every single day affects the quality of the work.. absolutely, categorically, no question,” said Walters. “If we had more people in the fight, we would do a better job.”
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter pressed the secretary about the hard time they are having with recruitment and retention, asking if this is a doomsday scenario.
“I live in a glass half full kind of world so I believe of course we can turn it around,” Walters responded.
DCFS and the Office of Inspector General are currently investigating the agency’s procedures, meaning additional policy changes are possible.
“We are looking at every aspect of the case to determine every step we took, right or wrong.. good or bad, where were we, how did we do and what can we do differently so it doesn’t happen again,” Walters added.
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