DCFS welcomes report calling for 'sweeping changes'

DCFS welcomes report calling for 'sweeping changes'

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With financial troubles, the secretary of Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is unsure how quickly her office can become the type of agency being recommended.

"We cannot cut our way to a solution," said Secretary Marketa Garner Walters, who was appointed last month by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

A report from the state released in January finds DCFS is "severely understaffed" and "underfunded."

In 2009, the agency had 1,008 caseworkers. By 2013, there were 816.

However, while employees d ropped, caseloads did not. They increased 18 percent, leaving workers "overwhelmed" and underpaid.

No money was appropriately budgeted for overtime.

In short, the report calls for "sweeping changes" to a department on the "wrong path."

"It is fair. It does call for sweeping changes and leadership and the governor started that at the top with me," said Walters.

Two recent child neglect cases brought a lot of criticism to the department.

Last summer, workers rescued a 15-year-old, 47 pound boy from a deplorable home near Gus Young Park.

Just last week, a baby girl was found in similar conditions in another Baton Rouge home.

The new report recommends more services and less caseloads.

"I will build the team I need here, and my focus is always and has always been on the front line," said Walters.

However, Walters said achieving those goals immediately is unrealistic because of the state's $870 million budget hole.

"We won't be able to hire people right now," said Walters. "We will do the very best that we can to keep the people we've got. And if the legislature responds and comes up with some sources of revenue, then we'll be a whole lot better off than if they don't."

The secretary said she supports any measure from Edwards to raise money. She said without new revenue, the disabled and people on food stamps may suffer.

"We cannot live that way," said Walters. "We will be in a position of responding only to the most horrific abuse."

Walters worked as the DCFS assistant secretary under former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. She succeeds former secretary Suzy Sonnier, who left office at the close of former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.

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