The head of Texas' beleaguered child welfare system announced on Tuesday he's stepping down, which comes at a time when child abuse deaths statewide reached a six-year high in 2018.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman told the agency's workers in a video that he is planning to retire at the end of June.
"It has been a great honor to work with you," Whitman said. "I've had a long career in public service before coming here, but I can honestly say that protecting the unprotected with you has been the most satisfying time of my professional life."
Whitman, who had no child welfare experience, took over the post in 2016 after a federal judge ruled Texas' foster care system was unconstitutionally broken . He made regional directors re-apply for their jobs, said he would give nearly 150 special investigators forensic training and made criminal background checks a new priority.
But Whitman's early departure comes as the troubled department continues to struggle with high turnover among staff and heavy caseloads.
His agency reported that 211 children in Texas died from abuse and neglect last year, up from 172 the year before.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said in an emailed statement Whitman's "long-standing commitment to putting the needs of children and families first helped create a safer future for Texas."
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"Hank made fundamental changes to DFPS that resulted in better outcomes for children, and he played an instrumental role in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' transition into its own agency," Abbott said.
The governor now has until the end of June to name an interim commissioner or find a new person to take the post, said Abbott spokesman John Wittman.