Following the deaths of three children under the supervision of Texas Department of Family and Protective Service (DFPS), Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has directed the DFPS to implement comprehensive reforms. The reforms are aimed at protecting future and current children under the agency’s care. Nine children died under DFPS’ watch during 2014.
Abbott sent a letter to DFPS Commissioner John Specia, Jr. (attached below), directing the department to implement changes in many of the basic operational aspects of the department. “Texas urgently needs comprehensive reforms to the state’s struggling foster care and child protection systems to ensure we put children in safe environments, provide them with a sense of permanency, and learn from the tragedies of the past,” Abbott wrote.
The Governor has proposed a $40 million increase in funding for the department. The funds are to be used for children and families at risk and foster children to increase access to outcome-based prevention, child safety placement oversight, and community-based family safety services. “While additional funding can support measures to improve safety and prevent child fatalities, it must be accompanied by effective policy changes to have a lasting impact,” he explained.
Gov. Abbott said three areas of weakness have been found within the department. Those weaknesses are in safety screenings, the review of child fatalities, and the process for closing certain types of Child Protective Services (CPS) cases. “I strongly support the review and implementation of additional safety measures and placement protocols to address these shortcomings,” Abbott wrote.
Specifically the Governor outlined the following measures to facilitate improvements:
- Require CPS regional management to enforce policies regarding face-to-face visits with children and caregivers in both foster care and safety placements.
- Require CPS staff to provide families, caregivers, and stakeholders with information to support child safety in a variety of ways including: firearm safety, safety around water, vehicle safety and safe sleep practices.
- Develop and implement a Parent-Child Safety Placements (PCSP) caregiver/home screening tool to thoroughly assess the appropriateness and ability of each potential PCSP caregiver.
- Develop and implement a policy to prohibit closing a PCSP investigation without wrap-around or follow-up services in place.
- Research and implement new policies as needed to address recidivism related to safety of children in PCSP placements.
- Establish a practice and protocol for conducting a thorough review of all child fatalities or critical injuries resulting in hospitalization; ensure that findings are used in a truly meaningful way to improve CPS policies and practices.
- Improve the performance evaluation and recertification process for foster care contractors to ensure the safety and well-being of foster children is in the hands of truly quality providers.
- Establish and implement caseworker protocols to educate foster children about how to anonymously report abuse and neglect.
“Governor Abbott will do what he needs to do to protect the children of Texas,” Breitbart Texas contributing writer and legal analyst Lana Shadwick said. “The Department has historically been understaffed. CPS workers and supervisors do not have the resources they need and their caseloads are unmanageable. The Governor’s proposed $40 million increase in funding for the department clearly demonstrates his strong desire to protect Texas children.”
Shadwick has reported about the abuse of children in the foster care system, including sexual and physical abuse, and about these children testifying before the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. She served Texas as a family court associate judge and a DFPS lawyer.
“The Governor’s mandate to establish protocols to educate foster children about how they can report their abuse and neglect in foster care, is very much needed,” she stated.
Abbott gave the commissioner until April 15 to report back with an update on these actions and any additional steps the commissioner felt were necessary to improve the care for Texas children.
“I recognize that there are many demands at DFPS, and that you may not always have the resources to meet those demands. In prioritizing the challenges that must be addressed, I submit that preventing child deaths should be at the very top,” the Governor concluded. “As Texans, it is all of our responsibility to protect children from abuse and neglect, but DFPS has a truly special mission to go a step further — to support, protect, and strengthen children and their families. I thank you for your dedication to this mission and look forward to working with you and your staff and stakeholders to make Texas as safe as possible for all children.”
This article has been updated with additional information.