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Governor says he still has faith in DCFS, despite investigation into 2-year-old boy's overdose death

1 year 10 months 2 weeks ago Thursday, August 04 2022 Aug 4, 2022 August 04, 2022 11:55 AM August 04, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE – Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday said he still has faith in the state Department of Children and Family Services, even as the Louisiana Inspector General has launched an investigation into the agency following the death of a 2-year-old who died from a drug overdose and was three times reported to DCFS because of prior overdoses.

"Obviously nobody ever wants anything like this to happen, not so much because you’re worried about a black mark on the agency. You just don’t want these things to happen, period," Edwards told reporters.

Arrest documents from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office outlined two previous instances where Whitney Ard, 28, brought her unresponsive toddler to a hospital before the child died on June 26. Ard was booked Tuesday on a charge of negligent homicide after law enforcement investigated her son's death.

On the day of his death, arrest records said the child, identified as Mitchell Robinson III, was rushed to the hospital by ambulance from their Denova Street home.

Ard, who was jailed in May after a drug bust at her home, was released just a day earlier and said her son was behaving normally when she picked him up from her mother on June 25. Ard told deputies she was lying in bed with her son when he asked for food early the next morning.

The mother said she made a bowl of cereal, placed it on the floor next to her bed for the 2-year-old to eat and went back to sleep. Arrest records said she woke up later that morning to find the child back in bed "cold to the touch, unresponsive, with his fingertips, mouth, and tongue blue in color."

Paramedics arrived outside the home to find Ard's friend trying to resuscitate the child on the pavement. First responders tried giving the boy epinephrine, a medicine used to treat allergic reactions. When that didn't work Ard told the paramedics her son responded to Narcan in the past.

Narcan also proved unsuccessful in reviving the toddler, and he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. On Aug. 2, over a month later, the East Baton Rouge coroner determined the child's death was caused by a fentanyl overdose. 

Deputies investigating the family's home said they found the corner of a clear plastic bag "containing white powdery residue" beneath the bed near the bowl of cereal on the floor. 

"It is tragic beyond description. The words fail me for how tragic that situation was," Edwards said.

"We’re going to see, exactly, what went wrong and what was known or should have (been) known and acted upon or not," the governor said. "We will then, obviously, take every action possible to make sure something like this never happens again."

Dr. Beau Clark, the East Baton Rouge coroner, on Wednesday told the WBRZ Investigative Unit that the toddler’s death was "preventable."

"If there was a moment between the second and third overdose where action was taking place and the child was placed in protective custody, then the third overdose would not have occurred," he said.

On Thursday, Edwards said work to make changes at DCFS were already underway.

He said Secretary Marketa Garner Walters was "not waiting."

"She’s already implemented changes in policy and procedure and staffing changes, both in response to this incident and in her continual approach to making sure the agency performs better," Edwards said. 

The agency has refused to comment since the death was announced.

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