ITEAM: Nearly 85 cases untouched in Capital Area as DCFS ‘strike team’ works on caseload

The WAFB I-TEAM is tracking the progress of the strike team that has been brought in to help get a handle on the flood of cases in Baton Rouge.
Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 6:57 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The WAFB I-TEAM is tracking the progress of the strike team that has been brought in to help get a handle on the flood of cases in Baton Rouge. There’s no way around it at this point, DCFS is in crisis as they work to get a handle on the explosion of cases in the Capital Area. In the last six months, the agency has investigated 1,326 reports of child abuse and neglect and the WAFB I-TEAM has learned as of Wednesday, November 9, 2022, there are close to 85 cases in this region where no contact has been made.

“If we just look at the month of September as a comparison, it’s a 63 percent increase in the number of cases,” said Dr. Rhenda Hodnett.

In the month of October alone, leaders say another 259 cases flooded in and despite hiring 15 more employees who should be on board by the end of the month, they are struggling to keep pace with the staggering reality.

”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,” said Walters.

Last week, DCFS leaders deployed a strike team, bringing in about 90 employees from other parishes to work 12-hour shifts over a 7-day period to stop the bleeding.

”They are working in pairs in Baton Rouge supervised by child abuse investigator supervisors,” said Walters.

According to emails obtained by the WAFB I-TEAM, that emergency group was being pulled together just two days after 1-year-old Jahrei Paul died from a fentanyl overdose. The agency now says the worker failed to act in time to ensure that child’s safety because a supervisor was out sick and missed an email to reassign the case.

A DCFS worker who did not want to be identified claims there are a number of cases that the agency is behind on in the Baton Rouge area and she questions the timing of this latest request, saying it was a direct response to Paul’s death that happened on their watch.

”Because people are going to wonder what happened and why something wasn’t done before which led to this child’s death and they’re afraid that it is going to happen again,” the worker said.

Secretary Marketa Walters calls it a coincidence, saying their strike teams have been in place since this summer when the agency was dealing with the overdose death of another child, 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson. That’s when the agency first brought in a group to tackle the overwhelming case load.

”There were 17 of them. Most of them have been here for about three months and some of them are staggering a little bit. It was time for them to go back to their parishes and so as we were constantly assessing what do we do and how do we replace them, we called in what we’re calling the rapid response team,” said Walters.

But that worker tells the WAFB I-TEAM the strike team has a lot on their plate, including checking in on cases that may have gone untouched.

“We don’t know if they’re alive. We don’t know what the situation is. There are all kind of cases including medical neglect cases, physical abuse and just anything you can think of,” the worker added.

The worker we spoke with says she believes leadership at DCFS means well but she’s not convinced they know exactly how to solve the issue.

”It’s out of control and they may not know what to do next,” she said.

”I’m not going to speak to an anonymous worker. If the worker wants to come and talk to me, my door is always open and I’d be happy to talk about that,” Walters said.

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