After caretaker’s sexual abuse arrest, toddler’s overdose death, DCFS to face questions from lawmakers
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The arrest of a Louisiana man accused of abusing children in his care over several years, coupled with a separate case in which a child died after overdosing three times from opioids, has state lawmakers fuming.
“I have a lot of questions and I have a lot of concerns, because this is the department [that is] tasked with ensuring that our kids are safe when they have been placed in already unsafe situations and here it goes again that it appears that we are failing them,” said Regina Barrow, (D)-LA.
Barrow chairs the state senate’s Select Committee on Women and Children and has called leaders from Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to face the music and answer questions about both cases Monday, August 8.
Just moments before interviewing with WAFB Friday, Aug. 5, Barrow learned disturbing details about the arrest of 52-year-old Michael Hadden.
Hadden was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in connection with at least three allegations of sexual abuse involving children in his care, Thursday, August 4, arrest records obtained by WAFB revealed.
The documents detail rape allegations at a home in Zachary. WAFB cameras captured the battered home and a nearby trailer, where Hadden allegedly forced an intoxicated teen to perform oral sex on him, and allegedly took advantage of another child with developmental delays, among other crimes.
Deputies said one of the teens was interviewed twice, once in early 2021 and then again in 2022, records say. At that time, the teen did not disclose information about a sexual assault, according to the arrest report. The case was then referred to an expert interviewer in New Orleans, where investigators learned the teen was forced into sexual acts, officials said.
At some point, DCFS had found enough evidence to remove one of the children from the home as it probed even more allegations made against Hadden, but the child was returned to his custody, arrest records say.
A DCFS spokesperson did not consent to an interview with WAFB about the case or explain why the child was returned to Hadden. However, WAFB was provided the following written statement from DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters.
“We learned through media accounts of the horrific allegations involving an individual who was a [caregiver]. Due to confidentiality laws, we cannot answer questions about a specific case. But it is important for the public to know that allegations like this involving [caregivers] are extremely rare and are not indicative of our [caregivers], most of whom open their homes and dedicate their lives to helping kids. All [caregivers] must meet a rigorous standard that includes passing a federal criminal background check, a child abuse/neglect background clearance and an extensive reference check. On a daily basis, DCFS works hand-in-hand with law enforcement and the courts to make decisions about keeping children safe.”
When the 9News Investigators pressed the agency on how Walters had only come to find out about those details Friday, despite her agency being the driving force behind the investigation, a spokeswoman said staff worked the case, but only just brought the case to the secretary’s attention. That decision came on the heels of mounting backlash.
“We’ve been seeing cases where there could have been intervention by DCFS to where if they would have stepped in, if they would have done certain things we might not have had some tragedy occur and this is raising a lot of questions,” said Franz Borghardt, a Baton Rouge area attorney.
The Hadden case comes just days after the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OIG) began investigating why two-year-old Mitchell Robinson’s past suspected overdoses did not raise flags with DCFS investigators and whether that oversight led to his death.
Sources close to the case tell WAFB that a doctor who treated Mitchell reported both suspected overdoses to DCFS, but investigators would not move forward with the case without blood work confirming drug exposure. Days later that doctor called DCFS again with blood work showing fentanyl was in Mitchell’s system, sources said. Whether DCFS launched an investigation upon receiving that report remains unclear. However, in just a matter of days, Mitchell’s life ended when he overdosed a third time.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Barrow. “We have to get to the bottom of this because we can’t have situations like this continuing to happen to our children.”
As lawmakers and OIG begin the lengthy process of finding out if policy changes should be made within DCFS, there is a growing outcry among the public for action and accountability.
Borghardt explains, given what is known about the two cases, criminal charges are not off the table.
“Before the last couple of years I might have said no but what we’re seeing now in 2022 is we’re seeing law enforcement agents in school shootings being prosecuted and investigated in instances where we ask the question, could you have done something and did you act negligently in such that your intervention might have prevented some kind of harm. Well, by that standard, if you look at DCFS, you can apply the same kind of logic,” said Borghardt.
The hearing at the capitol is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Monday afternoon.
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