I-TEAM: 1-year-old dies with fentanyl in his system; DCFS worker claims negligence
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A 1-year-old boy died with fentanyl in his system, according to the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office. Jahrei Paul died on Monday, October 31, 2022, after being rushed to the emergency room. According to the coroner’s office, toxicology results reveal the baby had fentanyl in his system when he died. The coroner’s office says they’re still working to determine what caused the child’s death.
A spokesman with the Baton Rouge Police Department confirmed they are investigating the case. That same spokesman also tells the WAFB I-Team that child was initially taken to a clinic in Baton Rouge and abandoned. The child was later taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A worker with the Department of Children and Family Services tells the WAFB I-Team that the child has been the subject of an open investigation with the agency but that his case fell through the cracks.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s unacceptable and it’s a very poor reflection upon our agency,” said the worker.
That employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave a detailed account of why the case was allegedly ignored. That worker said the employee who was working Paul’s case resigned recently and that the case was never reassigned to another worker. This alleged misstep comes months after the agency came under fire for overlooking a similar case.
In August 2022 another toddler, 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson, III died on the agency’s watch. That led to a DCFS supervisor’s resignation and another worker being suspended after the agency admits a worker was sick and her case was never reassigned, allowing the toddler to overdose multiple times without raising the alarm for staff.
“You would think after what happened in August it would have ended but here we are yet again,” said the worker.
Robinson’s death also led to sweeping changes, including stricter guidelines to ensure that cases are more closely monitored and reassigned if a worker can no longer handle the matter. At the time, head of DCFS, Secretary Marketa Walters said they were confident those new policy changes would help keep other cases from falling through the cracks.
“Policy is important. Policy is the guide for the workers,” said Walters.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter pressed Walters on the policy change, asking her if prior policies about reassigning cases were not followed, how would an updated policy alone prevent another tragedy and will be followed by staff.
“We will just continue to educate staff and to stress what’s in policy and to help them understand the critical nature of this policy and all the things that govern our work,” Walters said at the time.
“I will tell you that the Secretary and the deputy Secretary, they would never wish this on anyone. I think that they’re probably very upset that this has happened. I think that they’re overwhelmed and at this point, it is out of control and they may not know what to do next,” said the worker. “Whatever has been done has not been effective. We need someone to come in and to help organize and to figure out what we’re going to do about this issue.”
This latest potential failure by the agency comes in the midst of an ongoing top-down investigation by the Office of Inspector General’s Office.
When asked about the claims in this report, a spokeswoman for DCFS issued the following statement.
“DCFS is deeply grieved by the death of this child. Louisiana law prevents our department from commenting on, or even acknowledging the existence of, a case of child abuse or neglect. Normally, if there is an investigation, state laws make the entire process – from report to investigation to outcome – confidential. However, in cases of a fatality, should abuse and neglect be medically determined by an examining physician to be a contributing factor in the cause of death, the law allows our department to provide additional information.
Despite our profound workforce challenges, we are fully committed to investigating cases according to best practices and to the best of our ability.
We have always been committed to transparency and are committed to releasing as much information as we can within the limits of the law. We will be releasing additional information as we get further into the investigation.”
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