CPS: 172 Texas children died from abuse, neglect in 2017


The number of child deaths due to physical abuse or neglect dropped to 172 in fiscal 2017.

Reforms likely contributed to the drop, according to child advocacy group TexProtects.

In 60 percent of the child deaths, CPS has been or was involved at the time of the death.

In the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 172 children died in Texas from neglect or abuse, a 23 percent decrease from the year before, according to new data released by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Over the last eight years, the number of such deaths — which include accidents and intentionally caused fatalities — each year have fluctuated between 151 to 227.

Child deaths, along with high worker turnover and problems seeing potentially abused children in a timely manner, prompted the agency to pursue major reforms in Texas Child Protective Services. Those reforms likely contributed to the drop, but more needs to be done to prevent child deaths, according to child advocacy group TexProtects.

In 60 percent of such cases in 2017, CPS had been involved with the child’s family prior to the child’s death or was involved at the time of the child’s death.

READ: Pay raises, hiring initiatives usher in Texas CPS improvements

“I think it’s very exciting we’ve seen a drop,” said Dimple Patel, associate director of public policy for TexProtects. “I do think that reducing turnover, lowering caseloads and improving the work environment goes a very long way in that you can improve CPS’ response to families that are at risk.”

In late 2016, lawmakers approved $150 million in emergency funding to give caseworkers $12,000 yearly pay raises and to allow the welfare agency to hire an additional 829 employees. Retention and hiring efforts resulted in Child Protective Services employee turnover dropping to the lowest level in at least a decade and caseworker caseloads dropping as much as 37 percent between Oct. 2016 and Oct. 2017.

But agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins hesitates to attribute last year’s improvement to the hiring efforts and pay raises, saying public awareness to reduce unsafe environments for children was a more possible influence.

“There were decreases in unsafe sleep deaths, so perhaps our constant drumbeat of safe sleep messages, and those from (Department of State Health Services), paramedics, and emergency room physicians, is making a difference,” Crimmins said. “There are too many variables to tie it to something like pay raises.”

Over the last year, unsafe sleeping fatalities, typically from suffocation during co-sleeping, fell by 30 percent, drownings fell by 7 percent, homicides and physical abuse fell by 32 percent and car deaths fell by 24 percent.

Texas often has the highest number of child deaths in the country, but when calculated in proportion to the state’s child population — 7.5 million in 2017 — Texas does better than a handful of states. CPS was assigned to investigate 238,600 children in 2017.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

In Travis County, child death figures have fluctuated over the years. Seven child deaths due to abuse or neglect were reported in fiscal 2017. One of those cases involved 27-year-old Stephen Cortez, Jr., who police said had abused his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter. Although Cortez and the girl’s mother had said the girl had fallen down the stairs, doctors told police that they found a “high impact” injury to her abdomen as well as bruises to her abdomen, face and limbs. Cortez has been charged in Travis County with felony injury to a child.

CPS had been involved with the 2-year-old’s family before.

Fifty-two percent of the child deaths statewide involved a parent or caregiver who was using drugs or alcohol, 23 percent involved a parent or caregiver who had reported or confirmed mental health concerns, and in 40 percent of the deaths the victim’s family had a history of domestic violence.

Patel said mitigating such risk factors as drug abuse, mental health issues and domestic violence are ways to bring the number of child deaths down in the future.

“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.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Police appeal to bomb maker, raise reward money for tips
Police appeal to bomb maker, raise reward money for tips

Austin police on Sunday called on whoever is responsible for the recent string of deadly package bombings at East Austin homes to come forward and share their “message.” “These events in Austin have garnered worldwide attention, and we assure you that we are listening,” interim Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference...
Texas Digest: San Antonio man charged with capital murder

SAN ANTONIO Man charged in deaths of mom, girl A 50-year-old San Antonio man has been arrested and charged with capital murder in the slayings of a woman and her 11-year-old daughter. Police Chief William McManus says Casey Farell Marshall made a 911 call to report he’d killed the girl and her 48-year-old mother Saturday morning. Police believe...
Mississippi boy, 9, accused of shooting sister over argument about video game 
Mississippi boy, 9, accused of shooting sister over argument about video game 

A 9-year-old Mississippi boy is accused of shooting his 13-year-old sister in the head after they had an argument over a video game, WTVA reported Sunday.  Moore County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell said deputies responded to the scene around 1 p.m. Saturday.  Deputies said the boy allegedly had grabbed a gun when his sister would not...
Light Bulb Shop to go dark after nearly 40 years
Light Bulb Shop to go dark after nearly 40 years

One of the quirky retail shops Austin is known for is closing after nearly 40 years in business. The Light Bulb Shop, Austin’s “local lighting shop” at 6318 Burnet Road in North Austin, opened in 1980. A note titled “It wasn’t an easy decision” posted on the shop’s Facebook page last week reads, &ldquo...
Exit poll: Putin wins re-election in landslide
Exit poll: Putin wins re-election in landslide

Vladimir Putin earned a convincing victory in Sunday’s presidential election in Russia, winning 73.9 percent of the vote as he was re-elected to his fourth term, CNN reported. A state-run exit poll revealed the results, which was not a surprise, CNN reported. Pavel Grudinin was second with 11.2 percent of the vote, according to the exit poll...
More Stories