Embattled DCFS leader resigns following latest toddler abuse death

By: - November 10, 2022 1:55 pm

Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Walters speaks to reporters after a Sept. 6, 2022, Senate Health and Welfare Committee oversight hearing regarding the state’s child welfare system. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

Marketa Walters, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, has resigned, according to a statement Thursday from Gov. John Bel Edwards. Her departure follows the deaths of three young children since this summer whose households had been reported to the state’s child welfare agency.

As recently as Monday, The Advocate reported Walters said she had no intention of stepping down.  Her exit comes 10 days after 20-month-old Jahrei Paul of Baton Rouge died. An autopsy found Paul had fentanyl in his system, and it was reported that DCFS had been contacted 10 days earlier about drug use in the home.

In late June, 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson of Baton Rouge died from a fentanyl overdose, and the badly beaten body of Ezekiel Harry, 2, from Houma, was found in a trashcan in July. In both instances, DCFS had been alerted to problems. Harry’s parents have been charged with murder, and the Terrebonne Parish prosecutor in the case is seeking the death penalty.

Edwards has consistently stood behind Walters, even as state lawmakers convened hearings to explore problems with DCFS after the two toddler deaths this summer. Agency employees described a “toxic” work environment to legislators, laying blame on local and regional supervisors.

Walters has said high turnover and heavy workloads are at the root of why DCFS case workers have provided inadequate response in child abuse investigations.

In his statement, the governor commended Walters, who he picked to lead the department in 2016, for “… a long and distinguished career of working to improve the lives of Louisiana children and families …”

“There is no denying that child welfare agencies nationwide are facing very difficult and complex challenges and Louisiana is no exception,” Edwards said in the statement. “Those issues include staff retention, high worker caseloads, increased substance and domestic abuse, and sadly the tragic deaths of innocent children. 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.”

A “third-party expert organization” is conducting “a top-to-bottom review” of DCFS, according to the governor, and will provide improvement recommendations. Deputy Secretary Terri Porche Ricks will lead the department as its acting leader while a search takes place for Walters replacement, Edwards said.


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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.