THE INVESTIGATORS: Millions of dollars worth of technology upgrades at DCFS delayed until 2024
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As leaders with the Department of Children and Family Services work to identify failures that allowed two-year-old Mitchell Robinson to die from a third overdose on their watch, the 9News Investigators have learned technology is one problem that cannot be fixed so easily.
”In a perfect world, we would have a system where you could click on a child’s name like Mitchell,” said Secretary Marketa Walters. “You could click on his name and see his entire case history.”
Leaders admit the system they are working with is outdated and sometimes their reporting systems do not communicate with each other well enough across the agency, allowing some reports and other vital information to be missed.
”We have five different technology systems. Most of them are 30-something years old,” said Walters. “They do not speak to each other, and you can’t get that kind of data out of that.”
The agency has already been given the approval to overhaul those systems. In an agreement between the state and an outside company called Creative Information Technology, Inc. The 62-page contract lays out exactly how they will fix the system and it costs taxpayers more than $16 million. The problem is that the contract was first approved in 2019, and the new system was supposed to be up and running last year but because of the pandemic, it has been delayed until 2024.
”So that’s about two and a half years more...and that’s too long,” said Senator Regina Barrow (D) - Baton Rouge.
The concern is that for the next two years, the outdated reporting system will remain exactly the same, and lawmakers worry about how many other children will suffer because of it.
”The longer we extend this vital part of taking care of our children, the longer we’re going to have these things that slip through the cracks that cost lives and impact children,” said Senator Katrina Jackson (D) - Monroe.
On top of that, leaders with DCFS said even when the upgraded technology comes online in two years, they will then have to train their employees on the new system.
Lawmakers call it a frustrating and dangerous waiting game that they hope does not become deadly again.
”That is not as soon as we had hoped,” said Walters. “We really believed we would walk out the door with a system in place but I do not believe it will be ready and I don’t want to set a false expectation that it will be ready.”
The revised contract shows the agreement is set to last for up to five years and could ultimately cost taxpayers a maximum of more than $23 million.
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