It was bad enough Friday when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that career politician and former national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council Noble Ellington as his legislative director.
But at the same time, he announced the appointment of Marketa Garner Walters as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) at $129,000 per year.
Ellington, besides serving as national chairman of ALEC, was twice named Legislator of the Year. He left the legislature to take a cozy $150,000-a-year job as Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Insurance in 2012 even though he had no background in the insurance industry.
And it was during his tenure as ALEC’s national chairman that Bobby Jindal was presented the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award (you may want to check with the descendants of Sally Heming on that freedom part). http://www.alec.org/press-release/hundreds-of-state-legislators/
It’s beginning to look a lot like business as usual for the new administration. Like pro football and major league baseball, Louisiana’s elected leaders seem to keep recycling the same old familiar faces in and out of various state offices. The problem is, they are the ones who helped create the problems. So what makes anyone think they have the solutions now?
Take Garner Walters, for example, who served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Community Services within DSS (DCFS) from January 2004 until November 2008, when she went by the name Marketa Garner Gautreau.
“A national leader in the field of children and family services, Marketa Garner Walters has worked for more than 20 years to improve the lives of children,” the governor’s announcement said. “As a public servant, a national consultant, and an advocate with deep roots in her home state of Louisiana, Walters has been able to create meaningful change in the lives of family and children over the years.”
So what’s so wrong with that?
Well, not much. Unless one considers her explanation for an incident in which a 17-year-old mentally challenged boy raped a 12-year-old boy in a group home during the time she served as assistant secretary for the Office of Community Services.
“Retarded people have sex—it’s what they do,” she said, sounding more like a GEICO commercial than someone responsible for children’s welfare. That bit of wisdom was imparted during her testimony before the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission in 2008.
The Office of Community Services is a sub-office of the Department of Children and Family Services, formerly the Department of Social Services (DSS).
A former employee of the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ), then the Office of Youth Development, witnessed Gautreau’s testimony.
“In late 2008, DSS and OJJ were called before the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission about a situation at a Baton Rouge group home housing both OJJ and DSS youth (and) where a 17-year-old mentally challenged boy raped a 12-year-old boy,” the former OJJ employee said.
“OJJ removed our youth from the group home at once and put a moratorium on placement there. DSS, the licensing agency for group homes, left their kids there,” she said.
When questioned by JJIC members, including (then) Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and (then) Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball, Garner Gautreau offered a bizarre explanation. She said it was really not rape because the youths were of similar mental capacity.
When asked why there was not better staff security to keep the children from roaming around and molesting others, she replied, “Retarded people have sex. It’s what they do.”
The former OJJ employee was aghast. “I told my colleagues I’d wring their necks if they ever made statements like that in public hearings.
“We figured that (Gautreau’s testimony) was a career-limiting speech and we were not surprised when Ms. Garner Gautreau was shortly looking for another job,” the former OJJ employee said.
She added that OJJ stopped placing children in the same facilities as DCFS children.
There was “a consistent pattern of DSS failing to properly monitor and supervise group home operations and looking the other way when deficiencies were noted,” the former OJJ employee said. “Group homes were even re-licensed when still deficient and corrective actions plans were not being followed.
“The DSS review committee was a joke – the agency’s monitors looked the other way and ignored problems at the group homes, even when OJJ removed kids and notified DSS of deficiencies,” she said.
The intent is for private group homes to provide a safe, homelike setting for abused and neglected children who have been removed from their families. But the safety factor appears to have come up far short. Four rapes were reported over a 15-month period at two Baton Rouge group homes.
The Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization, released a 41-page REPORT ON GROUP HOMES in early 2008 that described filthy conditions and neglect of children’s education and medical needs at many facilities. Additionally, a 2007 report by the legislative auditor found that 90 percent of the group homes had deficiencies when their licenses were renewed.
Garner Gautreau, however, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that she had “a high level of comfort” in the knowledge that 80 percent of homes scored at an acceptable level.
Its report included problems that staff members observed themselves but also cited violations found in previous inspection reports filed by the state from 2004 to August 2007. Those include failure to assure proper medical care at 53 percent of the facilities and failure to assure proper physical environment in 69 percent of homes.
State inspectors cited 18 facilities for failing to have sufficient staff and found cases where homes failed to provide criminal background checks and in some cases knowingly hired people with criminal records, the Advocacy Center report noted.
“In some cases, we found evidence that the Bureau of Licensing had identified the same problems and cited the same facility over and over again. However, nothing changed,” said Stephanie Patrick, who oversees visits to homes for the Advocacy Center.
“I started following DSS failures when our staff consistently documented problems that DSS ignored,” the former OJJ employee said.
“Louisiana’s licensing statute for these facilities fails to provide an adequate framework for assuring the health, safety, and welfare of children in these facilities,” the Advocate Center report said.
The state doesn’t assure the safety and welfare of children it is charged with protecting?
Among the deficiencies of the statute, the report said were:
- That it grants final authority over residential facility licensing regulations and standards to two committees, none of whose members is required to be an expert in child residential care and treatment, and many of whose members are providers.
- That it allows the issuance of licenses without full regulatory compliance.
- That it requires the Department to seek the approval of the relevant committee before denying or revoking a facility’s license, and gives the committee veto power over such action.
- That it does not permit DSS to assess civil fines and penalties when facilities violate minimum standards.
The Advocacy Center requested DSS’s Bureau of Licensing reports for the years 2004-2006 and up to August 2007. “A review of these reports shows that a shocking number of the facilities had serious violations of minimum licensing standards, including:
- 38% of the facilities had violations relating to staff criminal background checks;
- 62% of the facilities were found to violate minimum standards regarding children’s medications;
- 53% of the facilities failed to assure that children received proper medical and/or dental care;
- 33% of the facilities were cited for not following proper procedures or violating procedures pertaining to abuse/neglect;
- 62% of the facilities were cited for not assuring their staff received all required annual training;
- 69% of the facilities were cited for not assuring that children were living in a proper physical environment;
- 36% of the facilities were cited for not having appropriate treatment plans or for inappropriate execution of children’s treatment plans;
- 33% of the facilities were cited for not assuring that sufficient qualified direct service staff was present with the children as necessary to ensure the health, safety and well- being of children.
“Many facilities were found to be in violation of minimum standards on inspection after inspection,” the report added.
LouisianaVoice has been receiving unsettling reports of inadequate inspections of foster homes by unqualified DCFS employees. Those reports are currently being investigated by us and will be reported in future posts should they be substantiated.
Meanwhile, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Marketa Garner Walters nee Gautreau will be watching out for the children as the new secretary of DCFS.
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