AUSTIN (AP) — New state data reveals more than 170 children died in Texas last year from neglect or abuse, a 23 percent decrease from the year before.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services released data this month on child maltreatment fatalities that occurred during the 2017 fiscal year, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
The number of such deaths has fluctuated annually during the last eight years between 151 and 227, according to the data.
The department decided to pursue major reforms in Texas Child Protective Services amid child deaths, high worker turnover and problems seeing potentially abused children in a timely manner.
Texas lawmakers approved $150 million in emergency funding in late 2016 to give caseworkers yearly pay raises and to allow the department to hire nearly 830 additional employees. The hiring efforts were followed by Child Protective Services employee turnover dropping to the lowest level in at least a decade and caseloads dropping as much as 37 percent between October 2016 and October 2017.
The reforms likely contributed to the drop, but more needs to be done to prevent child deaths, according to TexProtects, a child advocacy group.
Addressing risk factors like drug abuse, mental health issues and domestic violence can further reduce the number of child deaths in the future, said Dimple Patel, associate director of public policy for TexProtects. More than half of child deaths statewide last year involved a parent or caregiver using drugs or alcohol, according to state data.
“One area that we haven’t heavily invested in is the services that we actually offer to children and families that are at risk of abusing and neglecting their kids,” Patel said. “We invested a lot in the workforce last legislative session, but where we haven’t really invested a lot of time or money is those services, especially around substance abuse.”