Complaints fell on deaf ears at state agency ahead of foster parent's arrest
GONZALES – Once again, the state agency overseeing the welfare and safety of children, finds itself at the center of allegations of not doing enough to protect the most innocent.
Thursday, WBRZ was first to report on the arrest of a foster parent in Ascension Parish. Jerry Oubre was booked into the Ascension Parish jail on sexual battery and indecent behavior with juveniles charges. He is being held without bond.
Oubre, a state foster parent, was able to avoid any “red flags,” the head of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services said in an interview with WBRZ.
Outrage quickly followed, though, from people who are close to Oubre, who said they filed complaints directly to the DCFS.
“...I reported this… almost two years to the date,” a woman wrote in an email to DCFS and obtained by WBRZ. The woman emailed the child advocacy department after learning of Oubre’s arrest from WBRZ.
“For the last two years I have had to sit by and watch DCFS drop off one little girl after another after I warned you guys he had all the red flags. All I could do is pray God would expose him because there was nothing left I could do,” the woman frustratingly wrote in the email.
“This should have been prevented two years ago. This should have never happened.”
Outside Oubre’s home in Ascension Parish Thursday, a neighbor described additional problems in an anonymous TV interview.
“When one of his first foster daughters came over to our house and in passing mentioned some inappropriate things that had happened that I thought wasn't right, I said, ‘we're going to go talk to him about this.’ We confronted him. He didn't deny anything but he tried to blame the interaction they had saying [the foster child] was not good with boundaries,” the woman said.
The Department of Children and Family Services refused to elaborate on previous complaints, if it had missed or ignored reports of inappropriate behavior or why it found none if there was an investigation.
“Due to confidentiality laws and the ongoing investigation, we cannot discuss the particulars of the case,” a DCFS spokesperson told WBRZ when pressed Thursday evening.
Earlier in the day, the state-run agency said it had the wool pulled over its eyes by a methodical predator.
“I think we all saw the same qualities; We saw the good guy, the coach, the foster parent, the volunteer in the school. He just appeared to be something he was not,” Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said in an interview before knowing WBRZ was looking into reports her staffers may have missed something.
Thursday’s reports are similar to issues the Department of Children and Family Services confirmed it had previously when WBRZ reported in 2015 and 2016 of child welfare complaints being ignored.
In July 2015, a state lawmaker pressured DCFS into considering changing policies after more than a dozen people complained state advocates had failed to follow up thoroughly on child abuse reports. The lawmaker, State Representative Alfred Williams of Baton Rouge, abruptly died before he could work on legislation requiring better oversight.
The next year, in February 2016, a state foster care caseworker alleged bosses forced her to lie about work. In an arrest report obtained by the WBRZ Investigative Unit at the time, the woman said she created false reports about home visits to children and their foster families in an effort "to getting things done no matter what."
Then, the Office of Inspector General investigated complaints. DCFS even acknowledged some shortcomings and promised a more open and thorough operation.
State officials have blamed strained resources on budget cuts for years, and reiterated that Thursday. When asked about DCFS issues in the previous administration and if there were concerns now, a state executive office spokesperson said budget issues are always a concern.
"[After the Jindal administration] a transition report [to the John Bel Edwards administration upon his inauguration in January 2016] explained that DCFS was grossly underfunded, lacked adequate staff and as a result caseworkers had and continue to have crushing caseloads."
"... Providing adequate funding for state agencies has been a challenge," despite some budget constraints being addressed last summer, Shauna Sanford, a governor's office spokesperson told WBRZ.
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