Update, noon Friday: Bond has been set at $115,000 for Rose Holland, according to Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.
A top state official said Thursday that her agency is changing its policies to address concerns raised by the case of a severely malnourished Baton Rouge boy discovered living in squalor for years due to suspected neglect from his mother.
Weighing in with public comments for the first time since the child’s living conditions became public Wednesday, Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said her agency has initiated what she promised would be “a thorough investigation on this.”
Under a new policy, she said, any child who is nonverbal and has special needs, such as the boy found Wednesday living in a house in the 1700 block of North 46th Street, will be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team, including medical professionals, in the course of any investigation.
A family member had said Wednesday that Children and Family Services representatives had been to the boy’s house multiple times throughout the years but were concerned only with whether the child’s family had access to food and running water.
The family member said no one from the state intervened before the boy’s mother, Rose Holland, 49, was arrested and booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Wednesday on drug and child cruelty charges.
The boy was found by chance after a Baton Rouge police officer responded to a loud music complaint Wednesday and noticed Holland and another woman, 54-year-old Cathy Fort, sitting in a vehicle, according to a court affidavit.
The boy, who weighed only 47 pounds and had a large bed sore and insect bites, was taken to a hospital.
A state representative earlier on Thursday blasted Sonnier’s agency for its response, or lack thereof, to concerns about the conditions in which the boy was living.
In a letter to Sonnier, state Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, demanded the state launch a full investigation into how the boy’s case was handled.
“I went to the house,” Williams said Thursday afternoon. “It was obvious that house was not suitable for a child to be living in.”
The boy and his mother were living in a six-room “rent house” with several other people who each pay a small fee for a room in the dwelling.
“I don’t see how anyone from the state could think it was OK to keep a kid in that environment,” Williams said.
In his letter to Sonnier, Williams threatened to have the state’s Inspector General’s Office launch its own investigation into Sonnier’s office if her office does not investigate and release to the public a report on the matter by July 16.
Williams said he wrote the letter after Sonnier did not respond to his request to meet with her on Thursday.
“I tried to sit down with her to get a better understanding. I’ve waited three hours and still haven’t heard a response from her,” he said about 4 p.m. Thursday. “If you’d do that to a legislator, that worries me how you respond to an everyday person.”
Williams, who grew up six blocks from the boy’s home, says in the letter that a tenant at the home claimed the boy’s mother also had requested help from Children and Family Services. That request was never addressed, the tenant told him.
“After waiting for three or more hours to hear from your office, I have to bring myself to believe that the tenant may be correct in the way that you all respond to request for services,” Williams wrote.
His letter continued, “I am beginning to feel that the delay has to do with a possible cover-up of the failure of your office to properly address this young man’s needs.”
Sonnier said she spoke “at length” with Williams on Thursday.
“I did return his phone call,” Sonnier said. “I did talk to him. I did commit to him that we had initiated the initial investigation. I did commit to him the policy changes that we had made that were immediate in order to address vulnerable children with special needs.”
She said she also committed to Williams that she “would provide a thorough report on what we identify and that we would make any and all necessary changes to protect children.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.