Gov. Greg Abbott is again calling for major changes to the state's Child Protective Services (CPS) agency. In his State of the State address Tuesday, the governor declared CPS one of four areas that needs emergency attention.
CPS is often considered overburdened, and when the system is stretched too thin, vulnerable children can fall through the cracks.
Abbott called on lawmakers to overhaul CPS with better funding and long-term solutions. He declared it an emergency item, meaning state legislators can vote on a fix as soon as possible.
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The Tarrant County-based Alliance for Children is part of that solution. The agency offers counseling and education and helps investigate child abuse cases in Tarrant County.
"The average person doesn't understand that it's happening in our back yard and how frequently it is happening," said Alliance for Children spokesperson Kim Rocha.
Alisa Clakley's pain is the face of a CPS failure.
"My God, the hurt is so profoundly deep," said Clakley, whose 4-year-old daughter, Leiliana Wright, was beaten to death one year ago in Grand Prairie. The girl's mother and mother's boyfriend are now indicted in the child's death.
Shortly after the crime, Leiliana's grandparents told NBC 5 they had reported suspected abuse to CPS.
"How did this happen?" Clakley asked. "You get pictures sent to you of a child with black eyes and a cracked lip and a massive green bruise across her face, how did you pass that up?"
The cases pile on at CPS: Leiliana Wright, Gabe Flores, Colton Turner. But for the past year, Alliance for Children has helped ease the burden. Staff members there read every child abuse report that comes in to CPS.
"Maybe they're seeing something or picking up on something that maybe the intake person at CPS didn't pick up on, and just taking it a step further and referring it for services," said Rocha.
They are working to save young lives and fulfill the wish of heartbroken families.
"Maybe this is the way we can save another child," said Leiliana's grandfather, Craig Clakley.
Tarrant County, where Alliance for Children is based, has the second highest rate of child abuse in the state, with more than 6,000 confirmed cases last year.
The organization started reading over CPS reports when Abbott last called for increased funding and reforms in 2015.
The Clakleys are in the process of moving to East Texas to get away from some painful memories, but they have become advocates for CPS reform.
They are pushing to make it possible to sue CPS and individual caseworkers. They also want caseworkers to be prosecuted when there's a death, not just fired, as they were in Leiliana's case. The grandparents hope those changes would hold folks more accountable.