The lawyer. March 15, 2023.
Editorial: If we are to protect children, we need agencies that are able to do the job
Too late for a few children who have tragically died, the Louisiana government is stumbling toward a long-term solution to two of Governor John Bel Edwards’ greatest failures in office: child welfare and juvenile justice.
The Department of Children and Family Services failed in cases described in this newspaper in which young children became ill from Mom’s drug stash, and the agency failed to respond in a timely manner.
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The virtual collapse of the juvenile justice system in a series of riots and near-riots at state facilities from Bridge City in the south to the Monroe area in the north is another major crisis.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had a negative impact on already stressed families across the state and nation. But the sheer bureaucratic inertia, despite warnings from the DCFS leadership in particular, did not lead to a meaningful increase in staff that could have helped in the case of abused children.
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Edwards’ new budget proposal includes an increase of about 70 positions in the department’s organizational chart. While this may sound like a bureaucratic move, the truth is that these types of issues cannot be addressed through new websites or other top-down responses that are typical of large organizations today. They require real, hands-on staff who work very hard.
And that should make DCFS staffing a priority when the Legislature goes over the budget this April.
The Governor’s Chief Budget Officer is Administration Commissioner Jay Dardenne. He told the Baton Rouge press club this week that Edwards is committed to hiring more people in the DCFS and the Juvenile Justice Bureau. The civil service, which oversees pay plans, has been working closely with the administration department to make the jobs more attractive, he said.
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Dardenne said there was a good response to the job fairs launched by DCFS and that he wished they had taken place sooner. That’s not entirely fair to the department’s leadership, which could hardly have held events like this during the pandemic lockdown, and screams about staffing echoed in the halls of the state Capitol long before recent tragedies caught public attention.
Still, Dardenne warned: “Our challenge was to find people who would take these difficult jobs and if they did, stay in them.”
He’s spot on with the difficulties, whether it’s responding to a late night crisis situation with a toddler or teaching young people who are taken into state custody that they need to clean up their approaches to life when they get out of juvenile detention center want.
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“The proof of the pudding will be if these new hires stay on the job,” Dardenne said.
For this reason, we hope that the Legislature, recognizing the costs, will examine in detail the organizational charts for these challenged agencies. Recruiting staff is costly, but no other response makes sense, let alone neglecting staffing needs, which should be guided by national norms. And this year, unlike in the relatively recent past, there is money in the coffers to do so.
In too many cases, the pandemic has shaken family structures and the effects will be with us for a long time. Like shale rock loosened by fracking, it was a dramatic breach in the foundations of society.
Ultimately, more effective government remains elusive but critical to responding to what threatens our state’s most vulnerable residents, our young people — whether through DCFS or policing, along with nonprofits and faith communities.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
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