BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - One of the biggest roles of the State Department of Children and Family Services is to protect children from abuse and neglect. But a six-month review of the agency by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purperai indicates that DCFS could be doing a much better job.
Purpera looked at the department's practices from 2009 to 2013. During that time, DCFS responded to more than 130,000 cases. Purpera says DCFS did not always follow its own policies when responding to reports of alleged abuse and in making referrals to programs.
"One of the more startling things we saw was 6,000 cases were reported to a lower level of intervention than what the caseworker was recommending," Purpera says.
Purpera reports DCFS staff improperly referred to 2,602 of its 95,178 victims and perpetrators to alternative response which is a low-risk level of care rather than child protection category which is high risk.
Another issue Purpera says is the amount of time caseworkers take to make initial contact with alleged victims. He says it took caseworkers more than 60 days to respond to 1,195 cases.
"That's a very low percentage of 130,000 total cases, but it's very important that each one gets the level of care and gets response in the proper time period."
According to the audit, it took DCFS 117 days to contact a family about the alleged sexual abuse of two children.
A caseworker who does not want to be identified tells our sister station in New Orleans that caseworkers are strapped for time and working under extremely stressful situations.
"We don't have the manpower and when you have an agency that doesn't support their workers, we can't do our job."
Another issue pointed out by the auditor is the high turnover rate within the department. DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier says she agrees with most of the findings in the audit and adds changes are already underway.
"We've implemented new hiring practices to try and improve how quickly we're able to bring folks on board and to hire them and to make sure that they have colleagues working with them to make sure children are safe," Sonnier says.