DCFS aiming to combat manpower shortage in wake of toddler deaths

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 5:14 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Leaders at the beleaguered Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services say they are taking steps to ease a severe problem with manpower and child protection. There have been a number of recent deaths blamed in part on a lack of oversight and some say a complete overhaul is in order.

High-profile toddler deaths have rocked southeast Louisiana over the past several months. Mitchell Robinson died after a third fentanyl overdose in Baton Rouge, and Ezekiel Harry was bludgeoned to death in Houma. The deaths raised questions and concerns at DCFS. Now, state lawmakers are putting those leaders in the hot seat.

Mitchell Robinson
Mitchell Robinson(Facebook)
Ezekiel Harry, 2, was last seen around noon Tuesday (July 12) at a walking track near Main and...
Ezekiel Harry, 2, was last seen around noon Tuesday (July 12) at a walking track near Main and Mahler streets in Houma.(Louisiana State Police)


“You’ve been in a position for seven years. There should be a new direction,” said Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans.

The head of DCFS says that a new direction is underway to address a 500-person manpower shortfall.

“When your caseload is two times bigger than it should be, you feel out of control,” said DCFS head Marketa Walters.

The department is implementing a seven-point plan which includes boosting pay in target areas to try and recruit and retain caseworkers. They are also assembling special teams of retired law enforcement and medical experts to make rapid assessments when child welfare is in question.

Some lawmakers say it’s time to bring in outside help to shore up a child welfare system that is woefully short of manpower.

“What would be the downfall of a private contract to provide the services we have to stop the bleeding?” asked Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia).

A current employee inside DCFS says the staffing numbers are in free fall as one frontline worker leaves after another, all while cases explode.

A former DCFS employee testified that she could no longer work in the “toxic” environment due to being overworked, and a lack of management support.

“These children were my life. I gave them precedent over my own children,” said Stacey McPherson.

Lawmakers say until the work environment is fixed, no amount of money will help improve the “out of control” situation.

Although some lawmakers are calling for a change in leadership, DCFS officials say they are working closely with civil service to boost pay and recruit new employees. Part of the plan calls for the state to work closely with seven state colleges offering social work programs. In some cases, tuition would be offered for students who commit to working for the DCFS after graduation.

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