Child Abuse Deaths Rose and CPS Crisis Worsened Despite Gov. Greg Abbott's Pressure to Reform ‘broken' System

AUSTIN - Shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott took office in 2015, he promised to overhaul the state’s child welfare system and made an ambitious goal: no more child deaths.To that end, Abbott placed the Department of Family and Protective Services under his thumb.Abbott's office pledged an additional $40 million for child safety, tightened restrictions on placing abused kids with family members, replaced the leadership and embedded aides who track the daily work of DFPS and its parent agency, the Health and Human Services Commission.The commission's communications staff and DFPS leaders have diligently fed information to the governor's office on gruesome child deaths, relentless caseworker turnover and dangerous case backlogs to keep Abbott abreast of looming crises and subsequent bad press.But despite Abbott’s heavy hand, Child Protective Services has been in a state of perpetual crisis under his watch and, by nearly every metric, has gotten worse at protecting children.Data obtained through an open records request show that more Texas children died of abuse and neglect since the governor's office began applying pressure on the agency to improve last year. In fiscal year 2016, at least 202 Texas children died because of maltreatment, compared to 173 the year before. That toll will likely rise as the state reviews 123 more fatalities.At least 28 children who died of abuse or neglect had an open CPS case, compared to 19 the year before, an indicator that children continue to die because of bungled child abuse investigations and poor placements.Of those, 19 children died as they were the subject of a CPS abuse investigation. Eight children died after the state had intervened but didn’t place the children in foster care, instead leaving them with parents or another relative. Another child, a 1-month-old, died while in the care of a foster parent.Those fresh figures cap a year of chaos due primarily to an exodus of hundreds of child abuse investigators, who cited low pay and untenable caseloads. Dallas County alone lost more than half of its CPS investigators.The state’s cascading failure to hire, train and retain good investigators resulted in tens of thousands of endangered Texas children not being checked on promptly, and thousands not being seen at all.About 30 percent of the time, contacts between caseworkers and families -- crucial in protecting endangered children -- weren’t made within the 24- and 72-hour deadlines set by state law.Meanwhile, case backlogs are nearly twice as bad as they were in fall 2015.  Continue reading...

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