As Child Deaths Rise, Louisiana Child Welfare Agency Chief Steps Down

The head of Louisiana’s child welfare agency has resigned following a series of tragic deaths of children under his watch after the department was warned they were in danger.

Governor John Bel Edwards on Thursday announced the resignation of Secretary of Child and Family Services Marketa Walters.

Two of the child deaths were caused by fentanyl overdoses, the most recent on October 31, and Ezekial Harry of Houma, 2, died of head trauma and was found in a trash can after a neighbor reported his endangerment to the agency.

“There is no denying that child welfare agencies nationwide face some very difficult and complex challenges and Louisiana is no exception,” Edwards said in a press release. the tragic deaths of innocent children.”

Walters, whom Edwards appointed in 2016, has come under increasing criticism for the deaths of children and for a department that haemorrhaged employees.

She blamed the COVID pandemic, hurricanes and unsustainable caseloads for social workers as reasons for a mass exodus of staff that weakened the agency’s ability to provide a safety net for children.

“It’s not an excuse; it’s just the reality we live in,” Walters said in September during a Senate committee hearing.

Louisiana led the nation in child and adolescent homicides in 2020 with 130, which, at 11.4 deaths per 100,000, was the highest per capita rate in the United States, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Kids Count.

Edwards said Assistant Secretary Terri Porche Ricks will serve as the department’s acting secretary.

The governor said the state has “engaged an organization of third-party experts to perform a top-down review of DCFS and make recommendations on policy, practice, and personnel improvements that can be made to ensure that we serve the children and families of Louisiana the way they deserve.

“While there are no quick fixes, there is an urgent need for us to find new and effective ways to solve the problems to ensure that we provide the help our families need and deserve and to move our agency forward,” Edwards said.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Louisiana Network. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1

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