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AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott along with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) directing the agency to immediately initiate several actions to protect children in Child Protective Services (CPS) care.

The directive comes following reports showing that the backlog of children not seen within statutory guidelines remains nearly unchanged since last spring.

“It is critical that the DFPS eliminate the backlog of children not seen within the statutory guidelines,” the letter reads. “Action plans must be demanded from DFPS regional management in order to address the current situation and proactively prevent additional lapses in the required face-to-face visitations and interventions.”

The state leaders outlined the following steps DFPS must take to eliminate the current backlog ahead of the 85th legislative session:

  • Develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators, building on their law enforcement backgrounds and utilizing the safety and risk assessment tools available to find the children that the agency has been previously unable to locate.
  • Develop a plan, including a strategic hiring and training schedule, which will ensure DFPS is staffing an increased number of the necessary caseworkers to account for the increase in workload and system backlog of serving children and families.
  • Reinforce the culture of accountability at all levels of management by inspiring the DFPS workforce to rise to the challenge and embrace the commitment to the safety and risk assessment tools as an aid in their critical decision making.
  • Build upon ongoing efforts to enhance more partnerships with local faith-based communities.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued the following statement regarding the immediate steps underway to protect children in the state who are at risk of abuse and neglect:

“The heart-breaking news from the Department of Family and Protective Services that there is a substantial backlog in getting to children who are at risk of abuse or neglect is simply not acceptable.  Today I joined with Governor Abbott and Speaker Straus in asking the Commissioner to act immediately to put together an emergency plan to eliminate the backlog.”

CPS has long contended with high turnover among caseworkers, low pay and plummeting morale. High-level managers, meanwhile, have continued to remain in place despite repeated instances of the state failing to protect abused children.

At a State Senate hearing last April, then Commissioner of the Department of Family Protective Services, John Specia, acknowledged in the Dallas area, many caseworkers are leaving because they’re responsible for a very high caseload.

“The legislature in the last two sessions has put in over half a billion dollars into this agency,” said Specia. “This legislature has been responsive to the needs.”

One consultant hired by the state, John Stephen of New Hampshire, suggested money is not the problem — management is.

“Supervision is a factor,” said Stephen.  “We saw that supervision was lacking in terms of cultivating a good workforce.”

In August, Child Protective Services fired four regional directors as it looked at overhauling operations following years of complaints that the agency fails to adequately protect children who are abused or neglected.

The move is another indication that Henry “Hank” Whitman, commissioner of the Texas Department Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS, seeks to introduce significant changes when it comes to the care of vulnerable children. Whitman, the former head of the Texas Rangers, took the position back in April.

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