The three top political leaders in Texas have ordered Child Protective Services to take action to protect children in the state after reports surfaced that the most vulnerable were left unattended.
The letter from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus was sent on Wednesday to the embattled agency responsible for safeguarding and protecting children in the Lone Star State.
The directive was sent to newly-appointed Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) Commissioner Henry “Hank” Whitman, Jr.
As reported by Breitbart Texas on October 5, the agency was suffering from more bad news after reports became public that during the last six months, almost 1,000 of the most at-risk children had not been checked by CPS employees every day. The figure is astounding, especially when these children have been placed in the “highest priority” category and are the ones at most risk for physical or sexual abuse.
By Texas statute, Child Protective Services (CPS) employees are mandated to check up on these children within 24 to 72 hours of being reported. Thousands and thousands of children were left defenseless during these critical hours. Just in mid-September, over 14,000 children were left unchecked. 2,000 of these cases were emergencies and the most urgent cases.
“It is critical that the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) eliminate the backlog of children not seen within the statutory guidelines,” the letter from the Texas Governor, Lt. Gov., and House Speaker reads. “Action plans must be demanded from DFPS regional management in order to address the current situation and proactively prevent additional lapses in the required face-to-face visitations and interventions.
“We are confident that the Texas Legislature will make judicious budgetary decisions in the 85th Legislative Session to address the ongoing resource needs for the future biennium. However, we must act now to protect our children who are in harm’s way.”
“To that end, we are directing that you immediately initiate the following actions as a focused effort to apply expedient stop-gap measures to the problem while legislators prepare for and make funding decisions for the next biennium.”
The following steps were mandated in order “to eliminate the current backlog ahead of the 85th legislative session:”
- Develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators, building on their law enforcement backgrounds and utilizing the safety and risk assessment tools available to find the children that the agency has been previously unable to locate.
- Develop a plan, including a strategic hiring and training schedule, which will ensure DFPS is staffing an increased number of the necessary caseworkers to account for the increase in workload and system backlog of serving children and families.
- Reinforce the culture of accountability at all levels of management by inspiring the DFPS workforce to rise to the challenge and embrace the commitment to the safety and risk assessment tools as an aid in their critical decision making.
- Build upon ongoing efforts to enhance more partnerships with local faith-based communities.
In April of this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Whitman, a former chief of the Texas Rangers, as the new Commissioner. The new commissioner was charged with heading an agency that had been the subject of problems, abuses, and overreach. The foster care system had been the subject of a scathing order from a federal judge after a class action suit had been filed. In 2013 and 2014, there had been an alarming number of children who had died while in foster care, reported Breitbart Texas.
A class action lawsuit was filed against CPS in December of 2014. As reported by Breitbart Texas, the lawsuit was filed by a New York advocacy group called Children’s Rights. Among those seeking change at the agency–roughly 12,000 children who were in long-term care in Texas. Judge Janis Graham Jack ordered the State of Texas to reform the system and wrote in her opinion that the system was a place “where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability are the norm,” as reported by the Dallas Morning News in December 2015.
At the time, Breitbart Texas and other publications reported the dramatic numbers of children who were going unchecked in October, TDFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins told Breitbart Texas, “Specific to the problem of not seeing children when abuse reports are made, the key to seeing more kids is to get more workers in the field asap. To do that, we have asked for 510 more investigative caseworkers and more CPS Special Investigators.”
The Department’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for fiscal years 2018-2019 asks for funding “above the FY 2018-19 baseline request for six exceptional items totaling $498.1 million general revenue ($534.0 million All Funds).” New staffing requests total 1,823.4 FTEs in FY 2018 and 1,943.0 FTEs in FY 2019.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.
Letter to TFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman by lanashadwick Scribd.
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