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After toddler's overdose death and foster parent's rape arrest, DCFS faces questions from lawmakers

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BATON ROUGE - State lawmakers grilled officials with Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services after a toddler died from an overdose in his mother's care despite multiple warnings to the agency indicating the child was in danger. 

On Monday, members of DCFS blamed the failure on staffing shortages, saying it's been difficult finding workers to fill their openings.

"No one wants to do this work," Assistant Deputy Secretary Rhenda Hodnett said. "Case workers are exhausted, afraid... the trauma they bear every day is incredible."

Investigators with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office said the 2-year-old previously overdosed twice this year—and was brought back to life with Narcan each time—prior to his death in June, which was attributed to a fentanyl overdose. According to East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark, the child's overdoses were reported to DCFS at least three times prior to his death, but the toddler was never removed from the drug-laden home.

"I think this was preventable," Clark told WBRZ last week. "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."

The boy's mother, Whitney Ard, was arrested last week after deputies investigated the 2-year-old's death. Ard is also facing criminal counts in a separate arrest on drug and weapons charges. 

"What happened with the baby was so unacceptable guys, we can't have that," Senator Regina Barrow said during Monday's hearing. "I think someone should be prosecuted. I don’t want his death to be in vain."

Just days after Ard's arrest, DCFS once again fell under the microscope because of a separate case involving a foster parent accused of sexually abusing three children left in his care. Arrest documents said a 14-year-old boy alleged being raped by Michael Hadden on several occasions over the course of about two years. Two other foster children claimed they were abused by Hadden, including one child with "severe autism," according to the sheriff's office. 

Investigations into both cases are ongoing. 

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