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Months before recent failures at DCFS, leaders sounded alarm over staffing problems

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BATON ROUGE - Everyone is shocked over the latest allegations of rape by a parent in the foster care system — including the secretary of DCFS.

Marketa Garner Walters, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, said she was just as surprised as everyone else when the truth surfaced.

She also recently said there are hundreds of positions within the agency she can't fill for a number of different reasons.

"So the work has grown, but the number of staff never has to meet it," Walters said back in March. "So we're drowning. We've never had enough staff in child welfare since we've been here."

In March, Walters went before a senate committee asking for money for the state agency to fill hundreds of vacancies.

"We've got 400 empty chairs. I mean, it's salary, it's workload, it's COVID, it's the Great Resignation, it is the work itself," she said.

Walters had a lot to say before lawmakers months ago, but recently, she's been avoiding the WBRZ Investigative Unit. The agency refused to allow anyone to answer questions, only sending the following statement Friday:

"We learned through media accounts of the horrific allegations involving an individual who was a foster caregiver.

Due to confidentiality laws, we cannot answer questions about a specific case. But it is important for the public to know that allegations like this involving foster parents are extremely rare and are not indicative of our foster parents, most of whom open their homes and dedicate their lives to helping kids.

All foster caregivers must meet a rigorous standard that includes passing a federal criminal background check, a child abuse/neglect background clearance and an extensive reference check.

On a daily basis, DCFS works hand-in-hand with law enforcement and the courts to make decisions about keeping children safe."

The statement refers to new allegations against Michael Hadden, who is accused of sexually abusing three of his foster children.

In the arrest warrant, East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputies say Hadden raped a 14-year-old boy who appeared to be under his care. Another boy who is now 15 says he was forced by Hadden to perform sex acts, and a third boy with severe autism accused Hadden of molesting him.

Deputies wrote DCFS previously removed one of the victims from Hadden's supervision briefly in Jan. 2021 before returning him to his care.

This was the second time just this week WBRZ had to ask DCFS about decisions regarding the kids they're meant to protect.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit exposed DCFS after two-year-old Mitchell Robinson III overdosed on fentanyl, even when his mother was reported to the state three times before the child's death.

"Would like them to really analyze what they did because we don't need this mistake to happen again," said Dr. Beau Clark, East Baton Rouge Coroner. "We need them to react and protect children. I mean, that's in the title of their department, and probably in what they're supposed to be doing."

Robinson's sister is currently in foster care with the state, but the grandmother told WBRZ she wants custody, saying she doesn't trust the state to care for her granddaughter because they already failed her grandson.

DCFS has been called before the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children. WBRZ will be at the meeting on Monday at 1 p.m.

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