Missed signs, fatal consequences

How Texas missed deadly patterns and key pieces of information that could have helped protect vulnerable children


In 2009, the Legislature ordered Child Protective Services to publicly record every abuse — and neglect-related death in the state in hopes of identifying patterns and discovering ways to prevent abuse deaths. But the Statesman has learned that CPS has not systematically analyzed those reports, meaning that in important ways, Texas’ child protection workers effectively have been operating with blinders, missing deadly patterns and key pieces of information that could help protect kids.

For the last six months, Statesman reporters Andrea Ball and Eric Dexheimer analyzed each of those 779 reports and uncovered a series of troubling findings:

  • Between 2010 and 2014, the Department of Family and Protective Services did not publicly report 655 child abuse-related fatalities, even though the department confirmed that those children had been mistreated prior to their deaths. Because Child Protective Services caseworkers decided that mistreatment or abuse did not directly cause those fatalities, state law does not require the agency to publicly reveal those numbers.
  • The agency has not comprehensively tracked how often it saw children before they died of abuse or neglect — a key predictor of potential problems. Of the 779 deaths reviewed by the newspaper, the families of 374 of those children — nearly half — were visited by CPS at least once before the death. In 144 fatalities, or nearly 20 percent of the total, the agency had seen the family at least three times. In 12 instances, CPS had seen the family 10 or more times. CPS had contact with one family more than 20 times before the child died.
  • In 166 cases — a little more than 1 of every 5 reviewed by the paper — a child had been separated from a caretaker because of safety concerns prior to the fatality. In 41 of those instances, it was the same child who later died.
  • In 137 of the cases, about 1 in every 5 such fatalities, a boyfriend or girlfriend of a parent was at least partially responsible for the death. In abuse homicide cases, the number is closer to a third.
  • The paper also found that 20 percent of child abuse beating or strangulation deaths — the way most children are killed — remain unsolved, leaving relatives, law enforcement and local communities bereft of closure or justice.

Read the entire series, with access to thousands of pages of documents, interactive graphics and video, at statesman.com/cpsmissedsigns.



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