North Texas

New Leadership at Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

After days of intense scrutiny, there are two new appointees at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Retired Texas Ranger Chief Henry "Hank" Wittman will lead the department.  Kristene Blackstone, a former CPS caseworker, is the new assistant commissioner of Child Protective Services.

Both will be on the job May 1.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission released the following biographies on each person.

Henry "Hank" Whitman, DFPS Commissioner – Henry “Hank” Whitman spent 22 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety. A decade of that time was spent serving as a Texas Ranger. In 2011, he was named Chief of the Texas Rangers. During his tenure with the Rangers, Whitman created and supervised the elite Texas Ranger Reconnaissance Team and led border security operations. Whitman is also a military veteran having served in the United States Marine Corps. He currently is President of Whitman Consulting, a professional service company that provides security consulting and private investigations. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement from Southwest Texas State University and a Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice from Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi.

Kristene Blackstone, Assistant Commissioner for Child Protective Services – Kristene Blackstone has almost 25 years of public service experience working with children and families. She has 17 years of experience with Child Protective Services, where she started out serving as a caseworker. Blackstone held positions as a CPS Supervisor, Program Director and as the Regional Program Administrator. Blackstone currently serves as the Deputy Director for Field Operations for the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division. She oversees the daily operations of the Field Operations Division which has more than 2,300 employees across the state. Blackstone received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of North Texas and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Monday applauded the new leadership.

"The status quo at CPS is unacceptable. Our children are too important to suffer through the challenges they’ve faced. I’ve insisted on overhauling a broken system, and I applaud the leadership changes that will provide a new direction and focus that puts protecting children first," Abbott said.

These moves come after the death of 4-year-old Leliana Wright, who investigators said was beaten to death by her mother and her mother's boyfriend.

Leliana's grandmother said she repeatedly alerted CPS to concerns about Leliana's well-being.

There are also reports of overloaded caseworkers and turnover.

“I think if there was ever an emergency in state government the failure that we are seeing right now in CPS to protect vulnerable children from serious injury is it,” said State Rep. Chris Turner (D-TX 101st District), of Arlington.

Turner said that they need more caseworkers and need to stem turnover. He also said there is a crisis in foster care.

But the question is how to get it done. The legislature, which is not in session currently, approved more than $38 million for the DFPS in the last budget cycle. There is agreement on both sides of the aisle that working together is imperative.

"This is an area we should band together on, link arms together and fight together on. We cannot continue to accept the status quo specifically in this agency. We are going to do whatever we can to make whatever reforms necessary to improve it to insure this does not happen again," said State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-TX 67th District), of Plano.

Leach said the personnel changes at the top are significant to moving forward.

"Clearly the agency needs overhaul and reform. I don't think there is any disagreement on that," he added.

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