Four CPS leaders lose jobs amid agency shakeup


Expert reporting

Andrea Ball has covered CPS and other social services for the American-Statesman since 2002. She was a member of a Statesman team that did a six-month investigation into child abuse and neglect deaths that was named the Star Investigative Report of 2015 by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors.

Child Protective Services officials fired four high-ranking managers this week, saying the changes are part of a strategy to reform an agency under fire for failing to protect the state’s most vulnerable children from being abused or killed.

Officials at CPS said they decided not to rehire four of the 10 regional directors, all of whom were recently forced to reapply for their jobs. A fifth regional director in El Paso retired rather than reapply.

The regional directors who lost their jobs are in the Austin, Harris County, Corpus Christi and Northwest Texas areas. The Austin region of CPS, which has been losing tenured workers at an escalating rate, has been faulted in several high-profile child deaths in recent years.

Shelia Brown, the regional director for the Austin area, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS, is in the process of hiring replacements.

“We are very appreciative for the dedication and service given to CPS and the children of Texas by the regional directors from these areas,” said Patrick Crimmins, a Family and Protective Services spokesman. “A key component of Commissioner (Hank) Whitman’s plan to improve CPS is top-to-bottom accountability, and revamping CPS’ regional leadership is a critically important and very necessary step.”

The move represents a dramatic shift in strategy for the embattled agency, which for years has tried to solve its problems — high turnover, low pay and dismal morale among them — while leaving high-level managers in place.

Instead, CPS has turned to money, consultants, training and high-profile terminations of caseworkers who made mistakes or performed badly. It hadn’t done a thorough assessment of its high-ranking middle managers who direct supervisors and caseworkers.

But when Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman took the top job in May, he forced all of the regional directors to reapply for their positions, an unprecedented move aimed at leaders seen by many employees as lifers who kept their jobs no matter how their regions performed.

“The CPS regional director must be a top leader, administrator, teacher/trainer, and primary local representative with elected officials, the judiciary, and stakeholders,” Whitman wrote in a July 5 letter to Gov. Greg Abbott. “The agency’s performance will improve — and Texas children will be safer — once we ensure the right people are in these key jobs and they are held accountable for the performance within their regions.”

Whitman’s desire to bring in new regional directors was applauded by child welfare advocates.

“This is a big improvement and a shake-up in what has generally been business as usual with the management at CPS,” said Madeline McClure with TexProtects. “I’m super-encouraged that Commissioner Whitman is starting at the top and working his way down.”

One of CPS’ big problems has been internal strife.

In 2014, the Health and Human Services Commission’s Civil Rights Office conducted an internal workplace investigation into the Austin regional office. In separate interviews with the civil rights investigator, employees described one another as “dishonest,” “dysfunctional,” “disagreeable,” “unprofessional” and “unethical.”

The leadership team tried to hash out their problems at one point, Brown, the regional director, told the investigator. “She stated in August 2014 they planned to discuss The Five Dysfunctions of a Team but decided to postpone their discussion based on lack of trust in the group.”

The removal of the regional directors comes in a year that has already seen an unusual amount of top-tier turnover.

In March, several months after a federal judge ordered the state to revamp its foster care system, the former head of CPS retired. In April, after a Dallas Morning News report revealed massive CPS turnover problems in Dallas County, the regional director retired and the director of field operations resigned. The head of child care licensing also quit.

In May, former Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia walked away from the job he had held since 2012, saying it was time to retire.

Whitman, former head of the Texas Rangers, took the reins of the battered agency on May 1. In July, he told legislators at a hearing that he has a 10-point plan to clean up CPS, which includes forensic training for abuse investigators, criminal background checks on potentially abusive families before caseworker visits and finding specialized residential facilities for children with high needs.

But advocates say Whitman needs help fixing CPS.

“DFPS has taken a hard look at its leadership and made some changes to improve accountability,” said Kate Murphy, a senior policy associate at the statewide nonprofit group Texans Care for Children. “Now it’s time for the Legislature to take a hard look at the state budget and state policies and provide the resources necessary to ensure Texas kids are safe and successful.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

FORECAST: Crisp this morning; cool, clear week ahead
FORECAST: Crisp this morning; cool, clear week ahead

Monday forecast for Austin: It’s not quite sweater weather, but the crisp weather outside this morning foretells the week’s weather: cool and clear with nary a chance of rain in sight.  Temperatures will climb from the 50s this morning to the low 80s today, with highs expected to be knocked back down into the 70s by the arrival...
Police: NYC man stalks 8-year-old girl, 12-year-old brother
Police: NYC man stalks 8-year-old girl, 12-year-old brother

New York City police are searching for a man who has been stalking an 8-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother in Brooklyn, WPIX reported. The man allegedly left a note in the family’s mailbox, which read “Watch out. I am watching you!! Your daughter is cute.” The alleged stalker is described as a black male, bald, about...
UK restaurant leaves bags of food for homeless
UK restaurant leaves bags of food for homeless

A restaurant in the United Kingdom wants the homeless people in its area to be left holding the bag. At the end of each day, the Bosu Body Bar in Manchester leaves brown paper bags of leftover food outside its location for the homeless people in the area. “When we close the doors for the day, we promise to leave bags outside full of tasty food...
2 California women arrested in dead baby scam
2 California women arrested in dead baby scam

Two California women were arrested Sunday on fraud charges after allegedly panhandling for money to bury a dead baby that did not belong to either of them, police said. San Bernardino County deputies arrested 26-year-old Chasity Marie Doll on suspicion of panhandling charges, and an hour later they arrested 41-year old Michele Love on the same charge...
John McCain takes apparent jab at Trump during interview about Vietnam War
John McCain takes apparent jab at Trump during interview about Vietnam War

Sen. John McCain appeared to take a swipe at President Donald Trump during an interview about the Vietnam War on CSPAN-3 American History TV, criticizing people from “the highest income level” who avoided the military draft by finding a doctor who would say that “they had a bone spur,” CNN reported. Trump attended the New...
More Stories