DCFS says progress being made but worries continue
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A Louisiana lawmaker says it might be time to break up the state’s Department of Children and Family Services after several child death cases which appear to have slipped through the cracks. The agency says it is making progress under a new strategic plan, but many still worry.
Every month in Louisiana, the child welfare office responds to over 1,600 neglect cases and the problem is not going away.
“Last night we had nine children we were trying to place. The numbers keep going up,” said Rhenda Hodnett, with DCFS.
In recent months, the department has come under fire since the murder of 2-year-old Ezekiel Harry in Houma and the fentanyl overdose death of 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson in Baton Rouge. State lawmakers have stepped up oversight of the department.
“It’s good to have fresh eyes, not bogged down in the horrors that are happening in the state every single day,” said DCFS Head Marketa Garner Walters.
State child welfare officials say progress is being made under a seven-point strategic plan designed to fill 500 vacant positions, raise employee morale, and provide adequate supervision.
“We need human beings because of cuts the agency took during the previous administration,” said Walters.
DCFS says they have been holding job fairs around the state and have cut the hiring process down from 100 days to 30. The department has also raised the pay for child welfare workers to more than $40,000 a year.
“I just have to say with all the agony we’ve shared, the news stories, good things have come from this conversation that I don’t think would’ve happened otherwise,” said Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton).
In spite of the improvements, there are still concerns.
“I’m not sure the DCFS is not too big. Maybe we should break it up into smaller silos,” said Sen. J. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs).
For now, state officials appear ready to stay the course, utilizing civil service and the governor’s office to try and speed the hiring process for an agency that’s still more than 400 positions short of where it should be in trying to protect at-risk children.
Child welfare investigations have risen by nearly 40% this year. DCFS will hold a job fair in New Orleans on Friday. It begins at 10 a.m. at 3400 Tulane Avenue.
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