Four children living in squalor, and another report that the state Department of Children and Family Services had been involved with the family in question — but no action appears to have been taken until police intervened in a deplorable situation.
That’s the kind of situation that Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards ought to be looking to fix when he names a new management team at the DCFS offices in downtown Baton Rouge.
In this new case, Baton Rouge police were on the ball, finding the four children after an officer responded to a call about a disturbance. Relatives told The Advocate that one of the two adults arrested had been the subject of some previous contact with DCFS.
The agency has been under fire in Baton Rouge before.
State Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, earlier this year excoriated DCFS after a malnourished 15-year-old boy was discovered having a seizure on a cot crawling with roaches in a home in his district.
The normally tight-lipped department held news conferences and issued a report about that case only after Williams said he’d spoken with informants who claimed the department “expressed a lack of concern or follow-up” in various child welfare situations. Williams died not long after he called for a legislative ad-hoc committee to review DCFS’s performance and budget.
DCFS forwarded its internal report to the state inspector general for further review, but that agency’s leader, Stephen Street, said he could not talk about any of the department’s findings.
This agency has immense responsibilities to children and families but also tight legal restrictions on privacy rights. Those should never get in the way of an appropriate and searching inquiry into how well the agency is performing, and how such abuses are found by BRPD but not by the child welfare agency.
The governor-elect named a transition team that will look at DCFS operations. Perhaps it is boring to hear talk of budgets and numbers of cases in files, but if those are not taken care of, children get hurt.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said he and the rest of the Capital Region Legislative Delegation, to which Williams belonged, are trying to restart the late representative’s inquiries into DCFS.
“We don’t want to leave unfinished any of Alfred’s work,” Claitor said. “It was clearly very important to him, and it merits further investigation and follow-through, and frankly, we were dependent on him to take the lead on it. So we’re talking amongst ourselves about who is going to follow through and take the lead on this thing.”
Yet this is not an issue limited to Baton Rouge.
The broad charge of DCFS covers the state. We hope that Edwards and lawmakers will make it a priority.