BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Officials from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) answered questions Monday regarding the investigation into a 20-month-old child’s fentanyl overdose death.
Over 400 cases where infants were exposed to substances were investigated in the last year in Baton Rouge, officials said. The agency continues to cite staffing shortages as an issue.
“The cases are mounting, and our staff is low so it’s a crisis in the number of cases and the number of people we have to respond,” said DCFS Secretary Marketa Walters. “I have been doing this for a very long time — I have never seen this number of fatalities in a single year in my career.”
She said there are 61 reported fatalities for the year as of October.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, DCFS issued a second statement on the ongoing investigation into the death of J’ahrei Paul:
DCFS received a report to the child abuse hotline on October 21, 2022, by an anonymous reporter alleging that the mother was using marijuana in the presence of her children, including on October 20, 2022. On October 21, 2022, the case was immediately assigned to a supervisor who was recently reassigned to caseworker duties to help with the high influx of cases. Within 3 days of this assignment she put in her resignation, but continued to work for another 5 days to complete case activities. Her last day was Sunday, October 30, 2022. On Friday, October 28, 2022 she sent an email to her manager advising of no contact on this case. The manager was on sick leave on Friday the 28th, and returned to work on Monday, October 31. After testifying in court proceedings, she returned to the office and began reviewing emails and reassigning cases. In the process of doing this, she received notification that J’ahrei died.
DCFS previously investigated the mother of J’ahrei Paul due to marijuana use during her pregnancies. Louisiana law requires the Department of Children and Family Services to initiate an investigation of neglect when a newborn is exposed to any illegal substance or other substance used in an unlawful manner. There were no indications of other drug use, and no other substances were discovered in standard meconium tests. The agency initiated investigations according to state law, and there were never any concerns reported by medical professionals regarding the care of her children. There were never any other allegations or reports of abuse and neglect on these children.
During our investigation, the Agency learned that the mother was incarcerated in Texas during the time of this anonymous report and had been since at least August 2022. J’ahrei’s mother and father were not residing together prior to her incarceration. Case notes indicate that the mother made arrangements for the children to reside with their father while she was incarcerated. The agency never received any reports alleging abuse or neglect by J’ahrei’s father; this includes any concerns related to substance use.
It was learned through investigation that the children were residing with their father at the time of the intake. The father of J’ahrei had no previous investigations as a perpetrator of abuse and/or neglect. Since this time, the other three children have been removed and placed in the custody of the department pending the completion of the investigation.DCFS
The preliminary autopsy results of a 20-month-old who died on Halloween were released by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office Friday morning.
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, the Baton Rouge Police Department said it was investigating after an infant died on Halloween.
Police said an investigation into a male child’s death was launched on Monday, Oct. 31 after officers responded to a local hospital. Additional details shared by police Friday, Nov. 4 said Paul was taken to the emergency room by a family member where he was pronounced dead.
According to the coroner’s office, Paul’s preliminary autopsy findings showed the cause of death as acute fentanyl toxicity and the manner of death as undetermined.
The DCFS shared the following statement:
“DCFS is deeply grieved by the death of this child. Louisiana law prevents our department from commenting on, or even acknowledging the existence of, a case of child abuse or neglect. Normally, if there is an investigation, state laws make the entire process – from report to investigation to outcome – confidential. However, in cases of a fatality, should abuse and neglect be medically determined by an examining physician to be a contributing factor in the cause of death, the law allows our department to provide additional information.
Despite our profound workforce challenges, we are fully committed to investigating cases according to best practices and to the best of our ability.
We have always been committed to transparency and are committed to releasing as much information as we can within the limits of the law. We will be releasing additional information as we get further into the investigation.”DCFS
The investigation into Paul’s death is ongoing, BRPD said Friday morning.
Anyone with information is urged to contact BRPD’s Violent Crimes Unit at 225-389-4769 or Crime Stoppers at 225-344-7867.