A review by the state Department of Children and Family Services questions how the agency handled its inquiry into the care of a 15-year-old malnourished child discovered covered in cockroaches earlier this month by a Baton Rouge police officer but does not say outright the agency did anything wrong in its management of the case.
DCFS Executive Counsel Charlie Dirks, who conducted a review of allegations that DCFS representatives failed to act when notified about the teenager’s condition, wrote in his report that his investigation “did not reveal that any intentional acts were committed that violated any criminal laws or otherwise could be considered criminal malfeasance in office.” His report acknowledges DCFS investigated the child’s case but suggests that information given to DCFS agents by third parties in the case was inaccurate or incomplete. “Discretionary decisions were made by various DCFS staff that possibly would have been made in a different manner if additional information had been obtained or if the information they received had been accurate,” he wrote.
The boy’s mother, 49-year-old Rose Holland, was arrested July 8 after her 47-pound son was found covered in bodily fluids and insects inside a Baton Rouge “rent house.” Edna Mitchell, the teenager’s aunt, had told The Advocate that DCFS was concerned only with whether the child had access to food and running water, a charge DCFS disputes.
DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier, in a news conference Wednesday, said she takes “full responsibility for any activities that this department has a responsibility to do.” Another version of Wednesday’s report — more detailed than the one released to the public — is being forwarded to state Inspector General Stephen Street for additional review into possible criminal conduct by DCFS.
Street said he couldn’t comment on the case or say when or if the results of any additional inquiry would be complete.
DCFS, which typically declines to speak about cases, citing confidentiality laws, was pressured to open up about the 15-year-old boy’s matter due to allegations published in news reports and by state Rep. Alfred Williams’ sharply worded statements calling for a new investigation by the agency. Still, Sonnier declined to address unanswered questions about the case, such as how DCFS specifically followed up on the child’s situation after inspecting his home and interviewing witnesses, as the department said it did in its report.
The agency disputes that it checked in on Holland and her child based on a complaint from Mitchell. Dirks said he couldn’t find that the boy’s aunt made any reports of abuse or neglect to DCFS.
On Tuesday, Williams called on Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to take a closer look into DCFS’s actions.
Alario and Kleckley did not respond to requests for comment. Jindal’s office, in a statement Tuesday, said the office will work with DCFS to look into whether changes need to be made in its advocacy for children.
Dirks recommended the case be “referred to the appropriate appointing authority” to consider whether disciplinary action should be taken against the investigator, supervisor and manager. Sonnier said this authority would be a regional administrator.
The department last week announced a new policy requiring any nonverbal special needs child to be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team that includes medical professionals.
The agency’s counsel further recommends in its report that training be made available to improve the skills of workers examining cases of children with special needs, as well improve supervisor training so they “thoroughly examine case files when they take over a case from a previous supervisor for purposes of identifying if there are additional questions or actions that should be taken prior to closing the case.”
He additionally suggests improving the department’s electronic case management system and creating a felony offense, similar to obstruction of justice, for “when a third party misrepresents facts to a DCFS employee during a child protection investigation or otherwise obstructs the investigation in any way.”
Sonnier paused a while Wednesday after being asked whether disciplinary actions should be taken against her.
“I would guess that the inspector general will also consider if there is anything that needs to be taken against me,” she said. “If, based on this report, he identifies that something should be done to me, I would expect that he would indicate that.”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.