Louisiana adds nurses to child welfare ranks as agency faces calls for reform | New

Amid a raging opioid epidemic and growing investigations into child abuse and neglect in Louisiana, state officials announced Thursday they plan to hire 50 nurses to help carry out home visits to families whose infants were exposed to substances in utero.

Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters told state lawmakers Thursday that her agency has hired 11 nurses so far and 11 more are being onboarded. The new hires, who will be paid $80 an hour, have already had nearly 100 cases assigned to them, she told a meeting of the Senate Health and Wellness Oversight Committee. .

This committee convened hearings into DCFS’s handling of several high-profile child protection cases, including a 2-year-old child who overdosed and died of fentanyl after the agency received three warnings to his subject.

“We took your warnings and your encouragement to get it right,” Walters told lawmakers. “The results will tell the story.”

DCFS has 419 job postings, vacancies that are particularly acute in the Baton Rouge area. Social workers and foster parents have testified in recent hearings about shortcomings in the state’s child welfare system, saying social workers are overstretched and foster parents are afraid to speak up. because they feared reprisals from the agency.

Given staffing issues, DCFS has struggled to keep up with reports of child abuse and neglect, as they opened an average of 1,406 investigations per month last year and are now averaging 1 940 surveys per month since June. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s national average ranking for child well-being is No. 49.

The new recruits were one of several improvements announced by DCFS officials on Thursday.

DCFS holds job fairs in areas of the state to try to attract more workers, and they have made about 70 conditional offers to job fair attendees so far, they say. They also created higher entry salaries for child protection interns, who can earn almost $40,000 – an increase of almost $10,000 – and added salary incentives of up to $5. overtime in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Instead of requiring college degrees as it has long done, DCFS now allows hires to have six years of full-time work in any field, Walters said. Some lawmakers questioned on Thursday whether that had lowered the quality of candidates; DCFS officials said it was too early to tell.

“We won’t know until we try,” said State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.

Rhenda Hodnett, deputy secretary of the agency for child protection, said officials also interviewed three recruiting firms they hope can help DCFS fill its night shifts. Social workers said one of their biggest stressors is the night shifts they have to balance with normal daytime hours; workers are not paid overtime for night shifts.

Lawmakers said the actions taken by DCFS are a clear sign that pressure from lawmakers in recent oversight hearings has helped put the agency on a better path, despite a Thursday report from that newspaper on the half of DCFS’ budget 15 years ago when adjusted for inflation.

Some lawmakers insisted on Thursday that they had adequately funded the DCFS.

“We wanted all the results you are sharing with us right now. I just have to say that with all the agony we’ve shared, and frankly the tension, the reports that it’s our fault, good things are coming out of this conversation that I don’t think would have happened otherwise said the state senate. Pro Temp Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton.

State Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, said the legislature deserves credit for trying to improve DCFS and for restoring the agency’s budget to a reasonable level.

“To say that we’re not funding the department adequately, that goes against everything we’re trying to do,” he said.

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