THE INVESTIGATORS: Lawmaker calls on governor to make leadership change within DCFS

State Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, says enough is enough. He believes it's time for new leadership at DCFS.
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 7:10 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - State Representative Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, said enough is enough. He believes it is time for new leadership at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

In a tweet responding to a WAFB report uncovering the delay of a potentially life-saving technology upgrade, the lawmaker said, “For every issue at DCFS, you can count on the secretary to offer excuses instead of solutions...leadership matters.”

The 9News Investigators learned of a contract to upgrade the more than 30-year-old reporting system at DCFS cost taxpayers more than $16 million and was approved back in 2019, but now, will not come online until 2024. The secretary blames the pandemic for the delays.

RELATED: THE INVESTIGATORS: Millions of dollars worth of technology upgrades at DCFS delayed until 2024

“It won’t be available until 2024, and then we will have to train on it, but it won’t go live until 2024,” said Secretary Marketa Walters in testimony before lawmakers on Monday, August 8. “That is not as soon as we had hoped. We really believed we would walk out the door with a system in place, but I do not believe it will be ready, and I don’t want to set a false expectation that it will be ready.”

Rep. Hughes even sent the following letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards asking his office to get involved.

Chief of Staff Cooper, and Team JBE,

I sincerely hope this finds each of you well. I know the Governor is currently out of the country on an extraordinary and important mission on behalf of our great State. I sincerely appreciate his leadership.

On yesterday, I publicly called for the resignation of DCFS Secretary Walters. Today, I have reiterated this call and have also called for the resignations of the Assistant Secretary for Child Welfare and Assistant Secretary for Family Support. In my opinion, DCFS is in a crisis and new leadership, as well as a new direction is needed.

As an appropriator, I am committed to fighting for additional funding for DCFS. However, I can only do so with new leadership in place. The problems at DCFS are too many to name, and too many children and families in our State are needlessly suffering. Money alone will not solve the issues at DCFS. The culture and structure at DCFS needs to change. We cannot wait any longer and time is not on our side.

This is not an issue I take lightly and calling for someone’s resignation is not something I take pride in. However, in my opinion, the time has passed for a fresh start.

I am happy to discuss this issue further with the Governor at any time.

WAFB reached out to Secretary Marketa Walters late Thursday afternoon. She said she is aware of the request and has no comment. Earlier this week, WAFB asked the secretary about the problems within the agency and she remains confident.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the secretary if this is a doomsday situation or can they turn it around.

”I live in a glass half full kind of world, so I believe of course we can turn it around,” said Walters.

The lawmaker’s request comes after the agency is accused of mishandling two recent cases. One of those alleges Michael Hadden, 51, raped multiple teenagers who were in his care and the other is the overdose death of 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson - all on their watch.

The agency announced earlier this week it would discipline employees and take immediate action to change its policies. The one change Hughes believes must happen now is at the top.

A spokesman for the governor said Edwards is out of town right now but that the governor plans to meet with Hughes about this once he gets back.

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