BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Governor John Bel Edwards announces Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Secretary Marketa Walters’ resignation Thursday.

He said a third-party organization will be conducting a review of the agency and providing recommendations to improve policies and practices.

Read Gov. Edwards’ announcement below:

“I’m grateful for Marketa’s service to our state that has been fueled by her passion to create a better future for all children and families across Louisiana,” said Gov. Edwards. “She has worked tirelessly to improve our foster care system and as a result, we have been able to help thousands of foster children find safe and nurturing permanent homes with loving adoptive families. In addition, Marketa has been on the front lines helping to provide shelter, nutrition and other much needed assistance to those directly impacted by natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. Her dedication as a public servant has never wavered, and there are countless Louisianans who have benefitted from her hard work and that of the many men and women who make up the agency.

“There is no denying that child welfare agencies nationwide are facing very difficult and complex challenges and Louisiana is no exception. Those issues include staff retention, high worker caseloads, increased substance and domestic abuse, and sadly the tragic deaths of innocent children. While there are no quick solutions, it is urgent that we find new and effective ways of addressing the problems to make certain we provide the help our families need and deserve and to move our agency forward. We have engaged a third-party expert organization to do a top-to-bottom review of DCFS and make recommendations on improvements to policies, practices, and personnel that can be made to ensure we are serving the children and families of Louisiana in the manner they deserve.”

“The DCFS executive team will continue its work in evaluating and addressing the critical needs of the agency throughout this review. As Deputy Secretary, Terri Porche Ricks will serve as acting Secretary while the search for a new Secretary is being conducted. I will name a new Secretary to lead the agency as soon as possible.” 

Walters, who took the position as the agency’s head in 2016, had been under fire in recent months after internal investigations and questioning from lawmakers. Days before her resignation in a press conference Monday, Nov. 7, Walters had said she wasn’t going anywhere after several called for her resignation.

Internal investigations launched by DCFS after children died

The agency launched internal investigations after the death of two Baton Rouge children.

Two-year-old Mitchell Robinson died from a fatal overdose on June 26 after ingesting pills lying around his home. Robinson’s mother, Whitney Ard, 28, was arrested in August on a charge of negligent homicide. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said the child had been seen by hospital personnel at least two times before.

DCFS said it immediately launched an internal review into the case.

In another case, 20-month-old J’ahrei Paul died similarly. Police officers responded to a hospital where Paul was pronounced dead on Halloween after a relative brought him for medical treatment. The coroner’s office released preliminary autopsy findings showing the cause of death as a fentanyl overdose.

DCFS said it launched an investigation. In a statement, the agency showed how Paul’s case fell through the cracks amid staffing shortages due to an employee resigning and a manager calling out sick.

Ard was formally charged with second-degree murder in late September.

In the Monday, Nov. 7 presser, Walters said there have been over 400 cases in Baton Rouge investigated where infants were exposed to drugs and 61 reported fatalities for the year as of October. She continued to cite staffing shortages as a major issue for the agency.

“I have been doing this for a very long time,” she said. “I have never seen this number of fatalities in a single year in my career.”