The phrase “curb appeal” does not apply to the “rent house” where a severely malnourished Baton Rouge boy was discovered to have been living in squalor for years — apparently under the noses of state officials who visited it.
“I went to the house,” state Rep. Alfred Williams said Thursday, after The Advocate reported on conditions there. “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 for a room in the roach-infested dwelling.
“I don’t see how anyone from the state could think it was OK to keep a kid in that environment,” said Williams, D-Baton Rouge.
He’s right, and the report that state employees visited the house understandably leaves people angry.
A family member had said 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 East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on drug and child cruelty charges.
The boy was found by chance after a Baton Rouge police officer responded to a loud music complaint last week and noticed Holland and another woman 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.
It does not take a high level of crisis-management experience for the secretary of the state department, Suzy Sonnier, to promise a thorough investigation of this case.
She said that from now on, any child who is nonverbal and has special needs will be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team, including medical professionals, in the course of any investigation.
We can only hope that it’s not police officers who are the only source of DCFS information, because it might be too late for the next kid.
The Louisiana Budget Project, a liberal advocacy group, pointed to the cuts in child services during the past few years as a culprit in this incident. The Legislative Auditor’s Office reported last year that overall spending on child protection was down 27 percent since 2009 and caseloads for each worker were up.
During that time, we’ve heard many times from officials in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration that efficiencies and cutting waste have made reductions possible without harming state services. If this case is a sign that cuts have gone too far and that more boots on the ground might make a difference, we hope the next governor and Legislature will take a thorough look at DCFS.
It may be possible for some state contracts with nonprofit providers to help with the problem of child abuse and neglect in the state, but the reality is that inspections and enforcement powers ultimately reside in government. There is no substitute for that in this kind of unfortunate situation.