Members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee were incensed to hear on Wednesday that over 2,800 at-risk children have still not been seen by CPS after citizen reports of abuse or neglect. Senator John Wittmire immediately tapped the Texas Department of Public Safety to address this emergency. Of these 2,800 children, 511 are classified in the “priority one” category.
“Get the National Guard or the Texas Rangers or whoever out to each house to see these kids now,” demanded Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston). “Hell, they may die before we get there, reported the Houston Chronicle.
The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, promised the senator from Houston that his department would rush-in to help the embattled agency.
Other law enforcement agencies may also be tapped, including the Houston Police Department (HPD) and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Commissioner Whitman has asked for more money to hire additional employees, including investigators. The Houston publication reported that he wants to immediately hire 40 for the Houston area and 60 in Dallas, and that 161 of the 511 “priority one” cases were in Houston; 112 are in Dallas.
As reported by Breitbart Texas on October 5, the agency was hit with more bad publicity–during the last six months almost 1,000 of the most at-risk children had not been checked by CPS employees every day.
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 of children were left defenseless during these critical hours. Just in mid-September, over 14,000 children were left unchecked. Roughly 2,000 of these cases were emergencies and the most urgent cases.
Commissioner Henry “Hank” Whitman, Jr., told Texas senators during the finance committee hearing, “Beat on me. I don’t care,” the Chronicle reported. “But I’m telling you right now, we need help.”
Whitman also said, ”It sickens me to know there are children out there who are not being seen. Whitman said there has been a 10 percent increase in the workload for CPS since 2014.
Commissioner Whitman was appointed to lead the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS) in April, as reported by Breitbart Texas. He has been at the helm less than six months. Whitman is a former chief of the Texas Rangers.
Whitman told the senators that many of the children may not be found because their parents or guardians may have skipped town to escape investigators, reported the Chronicle. “But I think the message here was clear, so we’re going to move to find them.” He said he hoped that the children could be found within the week.
The Chairman of the committee, Republican Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) started the committee meeting by saying that the agency has received “funding increase, after funding increase.” Senator Nelson has served in the Texas Senate for almost 25 years.
After the meeting of the senate committee Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick issued a statement about the DFPS’ latest funding request. He said, “I commend Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson and members of the Senate Finance Committee for their swift response to Texas children who are at high risk of neglect or abuse.”
The Lt. Gov. added, “Chairman Nelson and the Committee asked very tough questions in an effort to determine why the Department of Family and Protective Services is unable to move through their backlog and protect these at-risk children despite a 85% increase in funding since 2006-2007 to the current total of $2.85 billion.”
Patrick said he shared Nelson’s “frustration with the fact that DFPS has not seen hundreds of these at-risk children over the past few months and I support her demand that DFPS provide us with immediate answers regarding these children.”
“These children are our first priority and I am confident that the Senate will take the steps necessary to address this critical issue in the upcoming session,” the Lt. Gov. said.
In a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas Sen. Nelson said, “We have to get it right on CPS. “We need to better understand what investments are working and what improvements are needed. We need an action plan that will keep children safe.”
As reported by Breitbart Texas just a few weeks ago, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to Commissioner Whitman demanding that he take action to protect children after reports surfaced that the most vulnerable were left unattended.
Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) told Breitbart Texas on Thursday, “Yesterday I talked about the terrible turnover we are having with CPS agency employees.” He added, “Helping kids is foremost, and taxpayer dollars are being spent to no avail.” He said the agency was proposing to hire 500 new caseworkers, but they lose four a day. “They would only get 125 business days coverage out of that proposal,” he exclaimed.
Sen. Bettencourt said Senator Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) “was so anxious, he was meeting on this crisis today.”
A statement obtained by the Texas Senate Republican Caucus said that statistics from the DFPS for Fiscal Year 2015 showed there were 2,133 caseworkers but there was a 25% turnover rate. The turnover rates were even higher in other departments. There was a 33% turnover rate for investigators, and an overall 46% first year attrition rate.
This sentiment was further highlighted by Sen. Schwertner who added, “The environment and the climate in which case workers do their job are the first and second reason for case workers to turnover. Until those are fixed, this is like filling up a pail that has a hole in the bottom.”
During the hearing, Committee Chair Jane Nelson announced that she was appointing a working group to study additional recommendations that would be made on Thursday by CPS Commissioner Whitman. Senator Schwertner is chairing the group, and Senator’s Whitmire, Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) are with him.
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.
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