(WAFB) - The head of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) says the agency, which includes child welfare, is strapped for cash and stretched thin. As a result, some children could be paying the price. The 9News Investigators spoke to some grandmothers and mothers who are concerned their cases were forgotten.
In one case, David William III, was arrested in May of 2018 in connection with a video posted to Snapchat. It showed his 15-month-old son, with his mouth, wrists, and ankles were duct-taped. The victim reportedly suffered abrasions and redness in the areas that were taped. Investigators say the video, which was taken during the child's visit with Williams, included a caption which read "what to do with an unruly child." The child's mother, Jamischia Jones, who does not live with Williams, says she was one of the first to see it.
"I'm like, what's going on? I messaged him that exact moment I saw the tape. I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He was like, 'I'm just playing.' I said, 'Playing?'" Jones said.
But Jones did not buy it. She says she immediately went to pick up her son at Williams' home in Gonzales. Aside from a few bruises and rashes from the incident, Jones says her son was not hurt. But she is deeply disturbed by what she saw.
"Why duct tape your child? Why? I just don't understand," she said.
Jones' mother, Stacey, says she reported the incident to the child welfare office the next morning, but Jones says she quickly learned reporting the incident would be a lot harder than she thought. Jones says a worker at her local child welfare office blew her off. "She told me she couldn't take my complaint in person. She said I had to make a phone call. I'm like, 'I'm right here with it in my phone and I have to step out to make a phone call?' She is like, 'Yes ma'am.' I'm like, 'Why? You open,'" Stacey said.
The Jones family tells WAFB they contacted the Gonzales Police Department on April 23 to report the alleged abuse. The child's mother says she reported the incident to DCFS on March 22, a month earlier. She says the Gonzales detective told her the police department had no record of the case. "Somebody d ropped the ball. The ball was d ropped. It wasn't about my grandson. It's about all the files you have and the children still waiting behind my grandson," Stacey said.
Another grandmother, who did not want to appear on camera, emailed the 9News Investigators about her experience with Child Welfare Services. She claims her daughter reported to DCFS last July that her 3-year-old child was being abused by her live-in boyfriend. "A year later, two ladies who identified themselves as child welfare workers showed up for an unscheduled visit. Us taxpayers are trusting child welfare to step in and take control of a bad situation and they wait a whole year later to follow up," the woman wrote.
DCFS Secretary Marketa Walters says the state agency, like most, is tight on money and as a result, does not have enough staff to immediately address the estimated 50,000 cases they get each year. "I agree completely, it is totally unacceptable," Walters said.
She says DCFS investigates half of them. She adds the department lost 2,000 employees in the last eight years. "I agree that we are not as fast as we should be because we don't have enough human beings to do the work that we are charged to do," Walters said.
According to DCFS records obtained by WAFB, the agency has seen a significant turnover in case workers in the last five years, peaking at nearly 23 percent in 2016. The state saw some improvement last year, but Secretary Walters says the child welfare division is still understaffed by 500 people. Walters says that means instead of each case worker taking on ten cases per month, they're handling 20. Walters took her concerns before the state legislature this last special session.
"Our caseloads are crushing," Walters testified.
Lawmakers did not cut DCFS's budget this time around, but the funding remains the same. Walters says the agency is forced to keep doing what it can with what it has. She also says just because you don't see the workers or hear from them as soon as you'd like, it does not mean they are not working on the case. But she says workers are trained to scan the reports as they come in and those that appear to need immediate attention, such as babies born to mothers addicted to opioids, move to the front of the line.
"We have a group of highly trained social workers who are on intake on the hot line," Walters said.
Stacey's grandson's wounds have healed. He is getting around just fine and he likely won't remember what happened, but his mother and grandmother say they will never forget. They hope their story will encourage others who are worried their case may have been forgotten.
"When you make a complaint, you need to follow up. I don't care who has it. You follow up until you get justice," Stacey Jones said.
The secretary says no one should ignore what they think could be abuse, no matter how big or small. She says case workers are not supposed to turn away people who walk in to file a complaint, but it's best to do it through their hotline so the report is entered immediately. That number is 1-855-4LA-KIDS, or 1-855-452-5437.
The state says a lot of the calls they get are repeats or do not meet the criteria for them to investigate, but they do look into every case that meets the legal definition of abuse.