THE INVESTIGATORS: Former DCFS employee shares why she left agency, issues that led to failed cases

- A former employee says enough is enough and just a few months ago, she decided to call it quits at the Department of Children and Family Services.
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 6:54 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2022 at 7:04 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A former employee says enough is enough and just a few months ago, she decided to call it quits at the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

“I did not want to be part of an agency where children were not put first and where they were left in homes being abused and neglected,” the former worker said.

The ex-employee said the job is no joke and on top of being asked to do the impossible every day, she said the pressure from those in charge was more than she could handle and claims there was more value put on closing cases than actually caring for children.

“I just know that I’ve been told numerous times to close them, to not make contact and to do it by phone,” the former employee said.

When asked if there was a quota system or if workers are being encouraged to close cases quickly, Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said that is not the case.

“There are federal guidelines and state guidelines for how long cases stay open,” Walters said.

A string of emails from her supervisor shows where the ex-worker claims she was constantly pressured to close her cases. In one email thread, the supervisor appears to nudge the worker, again and again, to speed things up. WAFB presented that thread to Secretary Walters who said, under certain circumstances, workers are required to move quickly. For example, if a case needs to be moved from investigation to family services, the process will need to move along.

Scottie: “But three times in one email? There are three different nudges it seems like in that same thread to finish this.”

Walters: “There are also things saying make sure that you have the right contact and information and the right zip codes. Make sure you have good information on their parents. This is all typical guidance from a supervisor to a worker. These are things that need to happen in your case.”

Scottie: “But those constant nudges, you don’t read anything into that?”

Walters: “I think they are questions. That doesn’t seem harsh to me.”

The ex-worker said she did see it as harsh though and on top of the constant pressure, in another email, she says her supervisor directed her to leave out certain information in a prior report.

When asked why she was being asked to do that, the former employee said she thinks it was to keep the case moving forward as quickly as possible.

“I felt like to minimize the severity of what the case was so it’s not put there in front of supervisors and management to read because then it constitutes having to remove a child,” the former worker said.

Secretary Walters said she has no way of knowing where that report would end up and believes that in certain instances, things are left out if claims from a previous report are deemed to be invalid.

When asked if the supervisor’s directive was an attempt to speed up the process and not have extra information slow down the process, Secretary Walters said she does not believe that is the case.

“I would certainly hope that’s not happening,” Secretary Walters added. “I don’t believe that was what the intent is.”

The former worker said she brought all of the issues directly to the leaders, sending an email outlining the issues. She said there was a meeting with top leadership but she said nothing was done about it.

“Depending on what kind of actions we took, she might not know every action that we took,” Secretary Walters added. “If there was an issue with the supervisor, we might have had a conversation with that supervisor and said behave differently and that’s the same thing with a manager.”

Beyond her personal problems, the worst thing the former employee claims she witnessed is how backlogged cases are assigned and prioritized. She agreed to take on a backlogged case, which first came to the agency’s attention in January 2020. It was not put on her desk until April that year. Four months after a report was made, she said DCFS did nothing and nobody checked on the children or did any follow up to make sure they were safe. As the agency comes under fire for its botched handling of certain cases, the former employee says this is a major reason why things fall through the cracks.

“It’s very frustrating because I knew in a physical abuse case, the marks are not going to be there four months later. Four or five months later, sexual abuse, unless it’s extremely extensive, there’s not going to be signs of that,” the ex-worker said.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Secretary Walters if four months is too long for a case to sit idle.

“Yes it is and when a worker leaves, their cases are handed off to another worker and that worker has their own cases that they’re getting plus those and then if somebody goes out sick or on FMLA then those cases get added to the stack and so that’s how a backlog builds,” said Walters.

In Baton Rouge, there are 29 vacancies for frontline workers who can carry cases. Some supervisors have also taken on cases and the state has even pulled in workers from other regions to help out. With so many cases coming in and fewer workers to take them, Secretary Walters admits it does not look good.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked if situations like this could be the difference between life or death for a child.

“I would certainly hope not, but it could be,” Walters said.

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