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Dysfunction at DCFS: Employee retired under cloud of controversy, rehired with pay raise

1 year 4 months 3 weeks ago Thursday, January 26 2023 Jan 26, 2023 January 26, 2023 3:18 PM January 26, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - The assistant secretary in charge of child welfare at the Department of Children and Family Services announced her abrupt retirement last year when two kids died months apart from a fentanyl overdose. Fast forward a few short weeks, and the WBRZ Investigative Unit found she's been rehired and earning more per hour than when she retired.

Those children were known to the Department of Children and Family Services, but the agency failed to act.

Rhenda Hodnett who was the assistant secretary over child welfare, submitted her resignation not long after Marketa Walters, the head of the embattled agency resigned.

Last week, new DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks told lawmakers, "We kept on.... I kept on... please stay on and help me work through this, our former now-retired secretary Rhenda Hodnett...is helping me to continue working directly with LDH and all of their players."

The WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered through public records Hodnett was earning $124,800 per year as the assistant secretary of child welfare when she stepped away from the agency. That's about $60 per hour. Now, she's been rehired and is earning $24 more per hour. Her current rate is $84 per hour as a WAE (when actually employed) worker. DCFS said she can earn that amount until she reaches a cap of $37,000 for the year.

Employees at the Department of Children and Family Services tell me they are dumbfounded that the new leadership would bring back some of the old problems. They say bringing someone back who resigned under a cloud of controversy is a real morale killer.

In August, State Representative Jason Hughes said, "I am convinced at this time we need a complete overhaul of leadership at the top, Secretary Walters, Secretary Hodnett, and the Assistant Secretary of family support Ms. Howard. I am calling for their immediate resignation and replacement."

Hughes said with Hodnett being rehired, "It's extremely problematic."

Employees echoed those sentiments.

"What will she be doing that she should have been doing while employed," employees who spoke to us on a condition of anonymity said. "It does not make sense. DCFS does not care about the taxpayers' dollars and how they are spent or the innocent kids. There is so much malfeasance in this department and nepotism. This place is a pig pen, just sloppy!"

Around New Year's Day, another child died of a fentanyl overdose. Police added the child's mother was previously investigated by the Department of Children and Family Services and has even had children removed from her custody. As that was unfolding, DCFS threw a large going-away bash for outgoing Secretary Marketa Walters.

Employees at the time called it tone-deaf.

With yet another questionable move, employees said they'd like the $84 Rhenda rate for their paychecks.

"Why is Rhenda being re-hired as a wage employee? That isn't change, that's throwing gas on the fire that's still burning."

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