Department of Social Services, Building a Stronger Louisiana - Kristy H. Nichols, Secretary

February 13, 2009

Contact: Trey Williams, 225-342-6700

DSS Announces Steps to Help Ensure Safety of Children in Calcasieu Area

BATON ROUGE - Department of Social Services (DSS) Secretary Kristy Nichols today said that the agency is taking several steps to help ensure the safety of children in the Calcasieu area, including bringing in national experts to provide training and instruction to staff at the Calcasieu Parish Office of Community Services (OCS), initiating peer-to-peer mentoring of supervisors, continuing to meet with community partners on a regular basis, and providing caseworkers with updated technology to make documenting cases easier.

The Children's Research Center, a national nonprofit that assists child welfare agencies reduce child abuse and neglect, as well as improve service delivery to children and families, was asked by Nichols for assistance in Calcasieu Parish, which was severely impacted by Hurricane Rita. The parish has faced a high turnover of staff, with 32 of 38 caseworkers having one year of experience or less, and 6 of 8 supervisors having less than 1 year of supervisory experience. CRC will help train Calcasieu area OCS workers with a focus on four key initiatives -- safety, risk, assessment of family functioning and case planning.

By focusing on these four key areas, CRC will train workers to use proven evidence-based tools to aid in critical decision making and in moving families toward a safer level of functioning. These tools will help caseworkers assess whether a family is ready for reunification or if reunification should continue to be the case goal.

"In meetings over the course of two months, Calcasieu Parish OCS staff and our community partners have voiced serious concerns about ensuring the safety of children in the area," Nichols said. "By working with the Children's Research Center to provide training, as well as focus on key areas for the welfare of children, we will not only be able to address the needs of staff, but more importantly, the children in Calcasieu Parish."

In addition to training, CRC staff will:

  • Review current child protective cases, prioritizing them based on upcoming permanency hearings and safety concerns.
  • Assist OCS staff and supervisors with ongoing cases.
  • Help create action plans with a focus

In addition to the additional training by CRC, DSS will implement intense peer-to-peer mentoring of supervisors, that are critical for case plan development and monitoring, utilizing retired or experienced supervisors imbedded in the Calcasieu office over the next 30 days. Nichols said that DSS will meet with community partners again next week in a continuing dialogue to not only hear about their concerns, but their ideas for improving the welfare of children in the community.

Even before documented abuse cases in the local media in recent days, Secretary Nichols, Assistant Secretary for OCS Kaaren Hebert, and DSS Assistant Secretary Suzy Sonnier traveled to Lake Charles over the two months to meet with OCS staff, as well as juvenile and family court judges, to discuss steps that should be taken to help ensure the safety of children in the Calcasieu area. Sonnier was in Lake Charles again on Wednesday meeting with District Attorney John DeRosier, judges and OCS staff to talk about DSS' commitment to strengthening community partnerships and assisting the Calcasieu OCS staff.

In speaking with caseworkers over the past few months, Nichols said she heard frustration caused by a lack of technology available to workers, causing the required case documentation from being filed in a timely manner and requiring them to be at their desk instead of the field. As a result, Nichols said that case workers in the region would be equipped in the coming weeks with wireless laptops that will allow for electronic case records to document the cases almost immediately, instead of the hours or days of delay currently experienced. The technology will help eliminate duplication, freeing caseworkers of paperwork and allowing them to be in the field visiting families.

In recent days, DSS sent a crisis review team from headquarters to review one specific case that has been documented in the local media. The team, made up of child welfare specialists, will examine the case file and conduct interviews to ensure proper procedures were followed.

"We take each case involving the safety of a child seriously. In any case, the safety of the child comes first. Anytime we place a child back in a home, it is done only with the cooperation of DSS, the judges, the District Attorney and other community partners," Nichols said. "Placing a child back into a home after they have been removed is a decision that is not made lightly and one that is not made alone."

When a child is removed, DSS, in cooperation with the court and other community partners, develop an action plan that identifies a number of steps a family must complete before consideration is given to placing the child back in a safe home. These steps might include counseling, parenting classes, anger management training and substance abuse treatment.

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627 N. Fourth St. | Baton Rouge, LA 70802 | PH: (225) 342-0286 | FX: (225) 342-8636 |

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