You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

breaking news

EXCLUSIVE: Document names Greg Kelley’s friend as new suspect in child sex case

More money, agency coordination among proposed fixes for foster care


Texas cannot reduce the number of abused children in foster care — or provide for those with medical and psychiatric needs — without better pay for caseworkers, improved data on how abuse cases are handled and coordinated health care, state officials told Texas senators Wednesday.

John Specia, outgoing commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, said his agency is working to address major cracks in Child Protective Services’ foster care system, which also faces a $36 million shortfall in its 2015-16 budget.

“We have too many preventable child fatalities. Every failure hurts,” Specia told the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “CPS interventions must be precise. The child protection system is bigger than DFPS.”

The committee began work Wednesday on identifying problems, and potential solutions, in a beleaguered child-protection system that is grappling with rising child abuse deaths, backlogged investigations and high turnover rates for caseworkers.

The American-Statesman has reported that 171 children died of abuse and neglect in 2015, up from 151 in 2014, as investigators missed red flags and failed to analyze critical data during abuse investigations.

Acknowledging that more needed to be done, Specia and other policy experts suggested that additional day care, parenting classes and drug-prevention programs needed to be established in communities. They also said government agencies, including the health and education departments, should share information on abused children and collect police data to identify areas where abusive households tend to cluster so they could be targeted with social services.

Several senators suggested pumping more state money into the system to keep more caseworkers on the job by increasing their pay. The starting annual salary for a Child Protective Services caseworker is $32,000, and 22 percent of caseworkers quit during their first year at the protection agency in 2015.

But state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said there is “plenty of money in the system.”

“We’re just not spending it right,” he said.

Wednesday’s Capitol hearing also addressed the growing number of foster children who have medical and psychological needs.

About 5,900 of the state’s 29,000 foster care children have issues, including autism, bipolar disorder, diabetes and serious behavioral health problems. Those children are in and out of foster homes an average of 5.7 times in a lifetime — twice as often as the average foster child — and stay longer in the foster system and are more likely to be sent to residential treatment centers, John Stephen, a consultant hired by the state to analyze Child Protective Services, told the committee.

Stephen said the state needs to clearly define what health issues are considered high need; improve coordination between caregivers and child placement agencies; give caseworkers more time and data to help manage child health issues; offer more psychiatric therapy services in foster homes; and improve access to and information about Medicaid services.

Despite the need for improvement, Stephen said, the state is moving in the right direction. “You have to be patient,” he said.

Wednesday’s discussion came as 17-year-old Meechiael Criner, a former foster care child who had reportedly suffered from mental illness, faces charges in the slaying of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser this month.

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, questioned Specia on whether the foster care system failed to address Criner’s illness. Specia declined to comment, citing confidentiality reasons.

Specia is slated to leave his post May 1. Henry “Hank” Whitman, the former head of the Texas Rangers law enforcement agency, will lead the family protection agency.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

WHAT’S BANNED: No to wet bikes, yes to kayaks on Lake Austin for Memorial Day weekend
WHAT’S BANNED: No to wet bikes, yes to kayaks on Lake Austin for Memorial Day weekend

Personal watercraft, wet bikes, motorized surfboards and similar craft will be banned on Lake Austin from sunset Friday to sunrise Tuesday, the Austin Police Department said. Non-motorized craft such as kayaks, canoes and paddleboards will still be allowed during the Memorial Day weekend, police said. APD’s Lake Patrol Unit will be enforcing...
State officials close to deal to expand Pedernales Falls State Park
State officials close to deal to expand Pedernales Falls State Park

A deal meant to protect the views in a popular Hill Country state park appears to be near completion, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials and a landowner said Thursday. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will buy, at no more than half the market rate, 200 acres of private property on a bluff opposite Pedernales Falls State Park; landowner Mike...
In fatal struggles with police, a controversial killer is often blamed
In fatal struggles with police, a controversial killer is often blamed

Juan Lozano’s death in South Texas during the summer of 2006 was a mystery. Dimmit County Sheriff’s deputies came upon the 26-year-old Crystal City man around midnight after a call about a man behaving bizarrely: screaming, running in the street and hiding in the bushes. A struggle broke out — officers say they pushed him to the ground...
Community news: Austin school district offers youths free summer meals

TRAVIS COUNTY AUSTIN SCHOOLS Free summer meals offered The Austin school district will serve free breakfast and lunch to local youths ages 18 and younger regardless of economic status or whether the child attends the district. The Summer Food Service Program will be available at more than 50 district schools beginning early June. There are no registration...
Gov. Abbott: ‘Plenty of time’ to avoid special legislative session
Gov. Abbott: ‘Plenty of time’ to avoid special legislative session

With four days left in the regular legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said on Thursday that he is not yet ready to talk about a special session to address what he considers insufficient efforts to restrict bathroom use by transgender people and rein in property taxes. “We’ve got plenty of time to continue in this regular session. I think...
More Stories