THE INVESTIGATORS: DCFS leaders say they need to hire about 400 workers to keep pace with caseload

Lawmakers, former employees, and members of the public testified Tuesday, Sept. 6, that there are problems at DCFS that a hiring spree alone will not fix.
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 6:50 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2022 at 10:28 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Leaders with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) told lawmakers they need to hire hundreds of workers to keep up with the demand of new cases but lawmakers, former employees and members of the public testified Tuesday, September 6, 2022, there are other problems at the agency that a hiring spree alone will not fix.

The testimony was critical and at times emotional during a more than four-hour-long hearing.

“My experience with this agency has been an utter nightmare,” Vickie Tolliver Auguste, a foster mother said.

“After six years of being there, the money is not the issue. The five people that left this one office as foster care workers within the last five weeks, none of it was money, not one reason for any individual that left. It is the toxicity of the work environment. That’s what it is,” said former DCFS worker Stacey McPherson.

Representative Jason Hughes (D)-New Orleans, who has recently been a vocal critic of the agency’s direction, stands firm in his call for new leadership but also wants to drill down on low morale among employees.

“Over the past three weeks, I have gotten emails from current and former staff pouring their hearts out asking me not to share these for fear of retaliation so we can hire people but if they’re not treated well, that’s a problem,” said Rep. Hughes.

Secretary Marketa Garner Walters spoke to those staffing challenges, saying they just cannot keep pace with the explosion of cases. In fact, she said just this week one of their managers left and took a pay cut just to catch a break. She says is not just a problem in Louisiana but they currently need to make about 400 hires to keep up with the growing caseload.

“Assuming our vacancies were full, how many more people would we need to carry the caseload that we currently have and that’s somewhere around 375 and that’s including the 130 vacancies we have,” said Secretary Walters.

Even if they hit that magic number, WAFB wanted to know how DCFS would keep those employees.

“This is really a tough and great question but it’s really a tough thing to do because our values are that we treat people with dignity and respect and compassion and we do that while we’re delivering services with integrity so to hear people talk about a toxic culture just really grieves me and makes me sick to my stomach,” said Secretary Walters.

As for attracting new workers, one option leaders presented was introducing shift work which would allow workers within the agency to work shifts and then step away in order to create more of a work-life balance for employees. Another solution was creating a partnership with law enforcement to try and bring on members of their team with more of a detective mindset when they go out on calls. While they work on those kinds of changes, Senator Michael Fesi (R)- Houma, says none of that will matter unless they stop the bleeding and take care of the workers who continue to give it their all every day.

“I just see all kinds of things that we need to fix when it comes to that lower level to make sure they have all the tools in their box. If I was running a business, if I send my crew into the field and they don’t have all the right tools, we’re going to fail every time and I think that’s what’s happened. We’ve got to quit failing,” said Senator Fesi.

Lawmakers plan to continue to hold DCFS leaders’ feet to the fire. They are already set to go back to the capitol next week.

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