BATON ROUGE – Livingston Parish led Louisiana per capita in the number of children who entered foster care during 2018, according to statistics from the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
A total of 328 children were removed from 164 homes, according to the LDCFS figures. The total marks a huge jump from the 180 cases in 2014.
The count reached 197 in 2016 before spiking to 267 in 2017.
Mental and emotional pain from the flood may have triggered the spike, DCFS Secretary Marketa Walkers said.
“Some turned to alcohol, some to drugs or whatever for relief after the flood,” she said. “The flood has to have played a role in this, somehow.”
The statistics indicate that Livingston is roughly on par with the rest of the state in terms of percentage of reported cases of possible abuse/neglect that are determined to be valid.
But the percentage of children entering foster care because of the severity of some of these cases is more than double the statewide median, Wilson said.
Drugs figured as the leading culprit, according to the DCFS statistics.
A breakdown of the 36 children who entered foster care in August 2018 included 17 on issues that involved meth, six from opioids, five each from suboxone and severe alcohol abuses, two for cocaine, and one case that involved benzos.
Six cases listed as “other” referred to sexual abuse, severe medical neglect of a “special needs” child, and a parent who was arrested and refused to arrange for the child’s care.
Slightly more than 100 children ages 0-2 comprised the total, while 50 were ages 3-5.
The two youngest age brackets were the most disproportionately impacted. Children under 5 represent 26.6 percent of all youngsters in Livingston Parish, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but also comprise 44.5 percent of children who entered foster care last year.
Forty-six (14 percent) of the 328 children who entered foster care in 2018 were drug- or alcohol-affected newborns.
Children in the 6-8 age bracket accounted for around 45 of the cases, while groups of 9-11 and 12-14 had lightly lower totals. Thirty cases involved the bracket for ages 15-17.
Of the children removed from households, 11 came from Denham Springs, five were from the Town of Livingston, eight from Walker, three from the Watson area, and three from Albany.
The largest concentration of cases came from the northern portion of the parish, in unincorporated areas along the outskirts of Denham Springs, Walker, and Watson.
The area south of Interstate 12 along La. 16 in Denham Springs and La. 447 south of I-12 in Walker accounted for approximately 40 cases.
South of Livingston, Orleans Parish – the most densely populated parish in Louisiana – had only 71, a decrease from 116 in 2017. Orleans had 102 cases in 2015 and 96 in 2016.
Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard questioned how Orleans Parish – with a population of 393,292 – could have a lower number than Livingston Parish.
Walters noted that judges in New Orleans tend to leave the kids in the homes. The judges tell the agency to work with the family without taking the child into custody.
Ard questioned if DCFS gives parents multiple chances. He alluded to one infant in Livingston Parish who tested positive for heroin.
“If they’ve tested positive once, that’s a cruelty charge,” he said, suggesting the child would be removed from the domestic situation.
Caddo Parish, which includes the economically-battered Shreveport metropolitan region, led the state with 382 cases. The parish’s population of 254,969, however, puts the total lower than Livingston, per capita.
By comparison, Ascension Parish had 81 children taken into foster care in 2018, up from 63 in 2017 and 50 in 2016. The total was 71 in 2015.
East Baton Rouge Parish had a count 186 in 2018, a drop from 219 in 2017. EBR had 199 cases in 2016 and 222 in 2015.
Tangipahoa had 130 cases in 2018, down from 143 in 2017. The total reached 156 in 2015 but dropped to 114 in 2016.
In other parts of the Capitol Area region, East Feliciana Parish had 15 cases, while Iberville and West Baton Rouge each had eight. St. Helena Parish finished the year with four cases, West Feliciana had two, and Pointe Coupee one.
MORE THAN THEY CAN MANAGE …
The DCFS based its findings strictly off the data, Walters said, but a tougher challenge looms for Livingston Parish.
The number of cases in the parish far outweighs the number of investigators and foster homes.
“We need people to investigate cases and take care of the kids,” she said. “Livingston Parish has a bigger community need than the DFCS can manage.”
LDCFS contacts a judge as soon as a child’s safety is in question, Walters said. The judge’s decision determines whether the child is placed in foster care.
The agency initially seeks a family member for the child to insure safety and to avoid taking the youngster from everything they know, Walters said.
The child experiences less trauma when they are put in the custody of relatives such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. A “safe” relative could also include family friends, or “fictive kin,” as the agency refers to them.
The agency strives to preserve some familiarity for the child, provided they did not contribute to the abuse.
“We know it’s a traumatic experience, no matter what has happened to them and no matter what got called in,” Walters said. “It’s more trauma to take them away, but it’s all about being afraid of the unknown.”
Despite economic challenges and struggles, the socioeconomic card does not always figure into the equation, according to Walters.
Poverty can play a major role, particularly when it comes to the decision of paying a light bill or buying groceries – which almost always means less food in the pantry, she said.
Other times, it involves wealthy people who hurt their kids.
“There was this notion that child abuse was only in poor black neighborhoods, but it crosses all socioeconomic levels and all racial levels,” Walters said. “We all tend to parent the way we were parented, unless we had an extreme experience that led us never to do that.”
Some parents have dodged the bullet. A visitation from a social worker on reports of unsanitary conditions often leads the parents to make the home more livable.
DCFS often helps in the process, she said.
“Sometimes all it takes to shake a family to its core is to make them realize they were doing a bad job and that it’s time for them to clean up their act,” Walters said. “If that’s the case, that’s fabulous – we don’t have to call a judge or get a court involved.”