Governor announces new head of Louisiana’s DCFS
BATON ROUGE, LA. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed a new head of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, an agency that has fallen under immense scrutiny this year following the deaths of multiple children despite warnings reported to the department.
Terri Ricks, who has been serving as interim secretary for six weeks, was named secretary of the department Wednesday. Ricks has been leading since former head Marketa Garner Walters resigned in November after a second young child died in Baton Rouge from a fentanyl overdose.
“No doubt there are many challenges facing child welfare agencies, including here in Louisiana, but I am impressed by the way Terri has taken her years of knowledge and put it into leading the department and finding solutions,” Edwards said in a written statement Wednesday.
Walters resigned shortly after a 20-month-old child died in Baton Rouge because of a fentanyl overdose, despite a warning to check on the baby just 10 days before their death. Four months earlier, a 2-year-old also died from fentanyl — even though doctors flagged risks to the child’s safety.
Officials have acknowledged that the agency is in crisis, with significant understaffing as reports of abuse and neglect across Louisiana increase. As of November, the department had more than 400 vacancies with 174 of them in the agency’s child welfare department alone.
“There is no denying that child welfare agencies nationwide are facing very difficult and complex challenges and Louisiana is no exception. Those issues include staff retention, high worker caseloads, increased substance and domestic abuse, and sadly the tragic deaths of innocent children,” Gov. Edwards said in November, following Walters’ resignation. “While there are no quick solutions, it is urgent that we find new and effective ways of addressing the problems to make certain we provide the help our families need and deserve and to move our agency forward.”
Lawmakers and residents continue to demand reforms in the agency, which is tasked with keeping children in the state safe.
Edwards said during his monthly radio call-in show Wednesday that in his next proposed budget to lawmakers he will recommend additional funds for the department — which would primarily be for additional staffing so “that we can have the case workers that we need to deal with the with the volume of cases that they have.”