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The casket of 2-year-old Ezekiel Harry is placed into the back of a hearse as people gathered for the child's funeral in Thibodaux on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The Times-Picayune | The Advocate published an investigation Sunday into Louisiana’s child welfare crisis. The state’s Department of Children and Family Services has struggled to respond to escalating reports of child abuse while the agency is bleeding staff. 

Are you a Louisiana DCFS worker or have you been part of the child welfare system?

Here are three numbers that help to put Louisiana’s alarming statistics into perspective:

DCFS has 400 vacancies:

DCFS has been underfunded and understaffed for several years. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal axed 1,000 jobs from the agency and cut its budget by nearly half. But in the seven years since Jindal has been out of office, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature have not fortified the department.

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Even as the number of employees that DCFS has the budget to hire has slightly grown, the department cannot fill the jobs it has available. DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters told the Legislature in March that she abandoned a plan to request 110 new positions for her office after noticing the department already had 400 vacancies. 

“We have the 400 empty chairs because we’re killing our staff,” she said. “They go out in these unbelievable circumstances.”

Louisiana’s children and teenagers die of homicide at a rate of 11.4 per 100,000 — the highest rate in the nation

Data from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kids Count Data Center show that in 2020, youth ages one through 19 were killed at exceptionally high rates in Louisiana. Those deaths include all varieties of children and teen homicides — not only those caused by abuse and neglect. Still, children in Louisiana were seven times more likely to die by homicide when compared to the best-ranked state in 2020, Massachusetts.

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Children ages 1 through 14 have also died at a rate that is 50% higher than the national average over the last decade.

So far this year, DCFS has opened investigations in 53 cases where abuse or neglect are potential factors in a child’s death. Each child’s death can include more than one allegation for DCFS to investigate. This year’s number of such cases already surpasses those in years past: DCFS opened investigations 47 times in 2021, 37 times in 2020, 48 times in 2019 and 52 times in 2018. 

In the 33 cases that DCFS has finished reviewing so far for this year, they’ve determined that 19 allegations of abuse or neglect in a child’s fatality have been valid.

The number of children under 5 who have been killed in Baton Rouge is three times higher than last year

In East Baton Rouge Parish, 12 children under the age of 5 have been killed so far this year. Last year at this point, just 4 children in the parish had been killed.

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In most of the cases this year, parents or their partners have been arrested in connection with the children dying.

Among the 12 who have died so far this year were 5-year-old Summer Hawkins, 2-year-old Kaden Johnson, 2-year-old Kyland King, 8-week-old Dominik Noehl, 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson and 4-year-old China Record.

Summer’s father, Aaron Hawkins, has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree cruelty to juveniles; doctors found “severe bruising and trauma” all over her body.

In Kaden’s case, his mother’s boyfriend Brynnen Murphy allegedly shot Kaden’s mother and her unborn child to death, then threw the toddler off a bridge. Murphy has been charged with two charges of first-degree murder and first-degree feticide.

Kyland’s father, Anderson King, has been arrested on a first-degree murder count after being accused of beating the toddler with a belt and failing to seek immediate medical attention after the boy fell down a flight of stairs.

Dominik’s parents, John and Analise Noehl, were arrested on first-degree murder counts after the baby was hospitalized with skull and rib fractures, internal bleeding and other severe injuries. They both bonded out of jail for $50,000.

Mitchell’s mother, Whitney Ard, was arrested on a count of negligent homicide after the toddler overdosed on fentanyl. He was hospitalized twice in the months leading up to his death and tested positive for fentanyl, but DCFS did not remove him from his mother’s care.

China’s mother and grandmother, Kadjah and Roxanne Record, have both been charged with first-degree murder and cruelty to juveniles; police and prosecutors say they forced the girl to drink a bottle of whiskey until she died.

Investigative reporting is more essential than ever, which is why we’ve established the Louisiana Investigative Journalism Fund, a non-profit supported by our readers.

To learn more, please click here.