ITEAM: DCFS admits to failures in handling of case prior to child’s overdose death

The agency tasked with keeping kids safe across the state, the DCFS, is now telling the public exactly how they failed another child.
Published: Nov. 5, 2022 at 5:41 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 6, 2022 at 12:21 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The agency tasked with keeping kids safe across the state, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), is now telling the public exactly how they failed another child, only after the WAFB I-TEAM exposed the botched handling of a case that left 1-year-old Jahrei Paul dead.

Less than 24 hours after a DCFS worker spoke exclusively to the WAFB I-TEAM, blowing the lid on the department’s most recent disastrous and deadly fumble, an agency spokeswoman now says it was a mix-up that allowed the anonymous tip that drugs were being used around the child to fall through the cracks.

The worker chose to speak with WAFB under the promise of anonymity.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s unacceptable. It’s a very poor reflection upon our agency,” the DCFS worker said.

DCFS officials admit they received the tip on October 20, 2022. That is roughly 10 days before the baby died. A manager who had been recently reassigned to take on cases resigned, then sent a message to her supervisor so the case could be passed on to someone else and alerted her that no contact had been made. That supervisor was out sick and did not get back to her email until after the baby was already dead.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the DCFS worker how something like this continues to happen on the state’s watch.

“Nothing is done.. or shall I say, whatever has been done has not been effective,” the worker said.

The agency also admits they had previously investigated the child’s mother for alleged marijuana use during her pregnancies but they found no indication of continued drug use. The agency says they followed state guidelines to investigate claims about the mom’s potential drug use but claims they never got any other complaints against the mother nor did they receive any other reports of abuse or neglect regarding the mom.

The worker who spoke with WAFB agrees that they are seeing more cases come across their desk like this but she believes more could be done.

”There are a lot of children born or infants born with fentanyl in their system along with other drugs.. methamphetamines, cocaine.. so it’s not something that is uncommon; however it is something that should be acted on,” the worker added.

Through their current investigation, the agency says three other children tied to the case have been taken into custody but the agency stopped short of saying what— if any— action has been taken for the case manager who missed the email to hand off the case. The worker who spoke with WAFB says someone needs to answer for what’s happened.

”I do believe that they need to be terminated,” she said. “I mean how could they get away with this? If we’re on a report and we haven’t done something and we’re two days overdue, we’re going to be slapped on the hand and nothing seems to happen.”

This marks the second time in recent months that DCFS has failed a child. Back in August, the agency announced policy changes and other steps to get a handle on the problems all while saying they’ve been slammed with cases and are finding it harder to recruit and retain workers. That was in response to them dropping the ball on a similar case, allowing another child, 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson to die after he overdosed three times.

The worker who spoke with WAFB calls these repeat failures frustrating and tells adds that morale is at an all-time low for those workers who stay and try to do the right thing.

”It’s the mindset. It’s what people think of us and for those that go out and do a very good job, of course it’s disheartening,” the worker said.

A DCFS spokeswoman released the following statement regarding the child’s death:

DCFS received a report to the child abuse hotline on October 21, 2022, by an anonymous reporter alleging that the mother was using marijuana in the presence of her children, including on October 20, 2022. On October 21, 2022, the case was immediately assigned to a supervisor who was recently reassigned to caseworker duties to help with the high influx of cases. Within 3 days of this assignment she put in her resignation, but continued to work for another 5 days to complete case activities. Her last day was Sunday, October 30, 2022. On Friday, October 28, 2022 she sent an email to her manager advising of no contact on this case. The manager was on sick leave on Friday the 28th, and returned to work on Monday, October 31. After testifying in court proceedings, she returned to the office and began reviewing emails and reassigning cases. In the process of doing this, she received notification that J’ahrei died.

DCFS previously investigated the mother of J’ahrei Paul due to marijuana use during her pregnancies. Louisiana law requires the Department of Children and Family Services to initiate an investigation of neglect when a newborn is exposed to any illegal substance or other substance used in an unlawful manner. There were no indications of other drug use, and no other substances were discovered in standard meconium tests. The agency initiated investigations according to state law, and there were never any concerns reported by medical professionals regarding the care of her children. There were never any other allegations or reports of abuse and neglect on these children.

During our investigation, the Agency learned that the mother was incarcerated in Texas during the time of this anonymous report and had been since at least August 2022. J’ahrei’s mother and father were not residing together prior to her incarceration. Case notes indicate that the mother made arrangements for the children to reside with their father while she was incarcerated. The agency never received any reports alleging abuse or neglect by J’ahrei’s father; this includes any concerns related to substance use.

It was learned through investigation that the children were residing with their father at the time of the intake. The father of J’ahrei had no previous investigations as a perpetrator of abuse and/or neglect. Since this time, the other three children have been removed and placed in the custody of the department pending the completion of the investigation.

The department will answer questions from the press about this information and the department’s response to the case at 10:30 Monday, November 7, 2022, in the Iberville Building, 627 North Street, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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