‘An absolute failure:’ La. governor blasts DCFS handling of child’s overdose death

Gov. John Bel Edwards
Gov. John Bel Edwards
Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 3:13 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2022 at 6:50 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana’s governor is calling the Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) handling of one its cases an “absolute failure” after a one-year-old boy died of a fentanyl overdose earlier in November.

Governor John Bel Edwards spoke about the case for the first time Wednesday, Nov. 9. The governor’s communications staff was previously unresponsive to requests for the governor’s reaction to ongoing turmoil in the agency.

“Obviously there were failures in terms of the implementation of new policies and procedures. Those things didn’t happen. We are still working to get to the bottom of them,” said Edwards. “But I’m not going to sugarcoat it, there was an absolute failure.”

DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said a series of staffing changes led to lax oversight of the child’s case.

The agency’s officials said they received a tip that the child could be in danger on October 20, 2022. A manager who had been recently reassigned to take on cases resigned, then sent a message to her supervisor so the case could be passed on to someone else and alerted her that no contact had been made. That supervisor was out sick and did not get back to her email until after the baby was already dead.

When addressing the case Wednesday, Governor Edwards explained the tip that came in referred to the child’s mother who was out of town at the time. The child was in the custody of his father, who did not have a history of complaints with the agency, the governor explained.

“It is less clear that had the worker done what she was supposed to do timely if it would have changed the outcome, although it certainly may have,” said Edwards.

The baby is the second to die because of missed or mishandled warning signs since the summer. A toddler died of an overdose in August after previous reports of drug exposure fell through the cracks at DCFS, officials said. Walters said that the August case had also been botched because of staffing changes.

In the aftermath of that August incident, Walters and other DCFS leaders promised policy changes to stop similar situations from happening. Wednesday, the governor said he was alarmed that those policies had failed to prevent another child from dying.

“There was obviously a failure to implement faithfully the policies and procedures that had been announced,” said Edwards. “We had failures of supervisors, because it was a supervisor who was actually assigned this particular case. So, all of that troubles me greatly.”

Walters has responded to questions about her future with DCFS by stating she “serves at the pleasure of the governor.” It’s unclear if the two have spoken since the latest child’s death.

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