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Governor calls infant's death 'absolute failure,' won't comment on DCFS leader after latest misstep

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BATON ROUGE - After avoiding questions for more than a week about the overdose death of another child who was under the eye of the Department of Children and Family Services, Governor John Bel Edwards admitted the agency should have done more to intervene. 

The governor has avoided questions about 1-year-old J'ahrei Paul since Friday, when WBRZ reported that the infant has been the focus of a DCFS investigation prior to his death. Paul was picked up from his father's home on Oct. 31 after he fell sick and was taken to a hospital. Paul was pronounced dead that same day, and investigators later determined he died from a fentanyl overdose.

DCFS admitted over the weekend that a worker was looking into the case days before the infant died. And despite getting complaints about the boy's mom, Ja'Mira Paul, the agency seemingly had no idea that she had been jailed for months in Texas, even after the boy died.

"I got a call on the first [of November], my baby died on Halloween," Paul told WBRZ. "When they called me, they said they were looking for me a week prior because they had a pending case on me, about me doing drugs around my kids when I was in jail in Texas."

In a statement released Saturday evening, DCFS blamed its diminishing workforce for why the case fell through the cracks. 

"I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. That was an absolute failure," Edwards said Wednesday. "It is less clear that had the worker done what she was supposed to do timely, it would have changed the outcome. Although it certainly may have."

Though he admitted the agency failed, he refused to answer questions about the head of DCFS, Secretary Marketa Walters, who said earlier this week that she was "in lockstep" with the governor about her job security. 

When Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto asked specifically if the governor still had confidence in Walters, he responded, "As soon as I have more, I'll tell you."

Paul's death marks the second time since June that a child died from a fentanyl overdose despite DCFS getting warnings ahead of time. After the death of 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson III over the summer, the agency said it was making changes to prevent that from happening again. 

"It was obviously a failure to implement, faithfully the new policies and procedures that had been announced," Edwards said of Paul's death. "All of that troubles me greatly, and we are still working to figure it out... exactly what happened, who's responsible."


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