THE INVESTIGATORS: DCFS employee describes morale issues, challenges of working for agency

A current employee inside DCFS says the staffing numbers are in free fall as one frontline worker leaves after another, all while cases explode.
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 4:04 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 22, 2022 at 6:33 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is in crisis and the head of that agency claims the shortage goes all the way back to the days of Bobby Jindal as governor.

While the Office of Inspector General is wading through a top-down investigation of the agency, a big part of what has gone wrong there could lie in staffing. A current employee inside DCFS said the numbers are in free fall as one frontline worker leaves after another, all while cases explode.

“When we walked in the door, we were 500 case workers down, including 500 child welfare staff, and we have never replaced those 500,” said Secretary Marketa Garner Walters.

“A regular day would be 10 hours but most days are over 12 hours,” an employee said. “I’m really only supposed to work eight. Anything over that, I get comp time and everything but there’s no way. I mean, just the amount of cases and no one else to do them.”

The worker did not want WAFB to identify her for fear of retaliation but she said the morale is even worse than what leadership is saying.

She was asked how stressful is it to be working under a situation where she loves the work and she’s doing what she can do for these kids, but she just cannot do it all.

”It’s very stressful, especially considering that I am that frontline, so when I get a report, safety hasn’t been determined yet, so just to know I have to go make these contacts because we don’t know if these kids are safe. There’s a lot of work and not a lot of time but then also management and supervisors are making that even worse,” explained the worker.

The worker said the issues run much deeper. Besides just the staff shortages, that employee said the real problem is the pressure of the job and how those directly tasked with keeping children safe are treated by their superiors. She said while employees can complain, they do so at their own risk.

”There’s grievance policies and all that. There is a place where you can go higher and you can go higher and keep going all the way until you get all the way to the state office but on a day-to-day basis, all you have is your supervisor and your manager and if they don’t have your back and they’re not there for you, they can make it very difficult, and it’s already a difficult job,” added the worker.

The worker said the day-to-day is hell. Not only are they asked to take on more every day but she said they cannot talk to other employees about what they’re dealing with. She said things are so bad that a worker resorted to hiding under her desk to avoid being seen by a supervisor.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the employee if she witnessed that worker hiding under her desk and if things were that serious in her office.

“Yeah, it is and I mean that person thankfully wasn’t detected but yeah, it’s definitely an unwritten rule but it’s well known and enforced and you’ll be threatened with violating confidentiality and this, that and the other,” she answered.

Secretary Walters pointed to a confidentiality policy that all employees sign that dictates what things they cannot talk about to other employees. They are permitted to pass along need-to-know information but due to confidentiality, some things are limited.

”During a child abuse investigation, a lot of accusations are made. We’re trying to hold those in confidence until we know they’re true because you can’t un-ring a bell and if we have an accusation about something that turns out not to be true, we’re not trying to spread a rumor mill about, ‘Oh, I heard he did that,’ so it’s confidential, so we’re not talking about it,” explained Walters.

According to numbers obtained by the 9News Investigators, DCFS has lost 276 employees statewide. Of that number, only 16 employees claimed to have left because of pay. When compared to the 118 who say they left for personal reasons, the worker who spoke with WAFB said that tells the story.

”The people I know who have left the agency, they’ve not left the agency because of money, and they’ve not left the agency because of the workload. They’ve left the agency because their supervisors and management are not only not helping them but actively working against them,” said the worker.

“That breaks my heart. That is not our value system and that is not how we want supervisors or managers to behave. We are a team. We have to work together as a team and we have to share our knowledge and expertise every single day so in a perfect world, it would be a very collegial kind of place where everybody would feel good and comfortable. That is what I hope for every single employee,” added Walters.

When asked if leaders with the agency go out to spot check and investigate how things are being run by managers and supervisors, Secretary Walters said they do on a case-by-case basis.

“When we hear of trauma in an office, yes, we do. If there’s an employee that doesn’t feel safe or good or comfortable in their office then yeah was have work to do,” said Walters.

Secretary Walters said mistreatment of any kind by any of their employees goes against their mission and she is devastated to hear from some employees who describe horrible working conditions. She said they are working hard to address it, including creating a council to respond to any feedback they received from employees across the agency.

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