Texas CPS workers miss key deadline in 14,000 child abuse cases


Despite efforts to overhaul Child Protective Services through new leadership and increased scrutiny, state investigators are still failing to quickly check on potentially abused and neglected children.

In mid-September, more than 14,000 kids across the state — one-third of those with open CPS cases — had not been seen by child abuse investigators between 24 and 72 hours after a report of abuse, the state-mandated timeframe in which caseworkers must see children. Of those, nearly 2,000 were considered urgent cases, meaning the kids could have been in immediate danger.

In Travis County, 42 percent of about 2,900 children had not been seen by the deadline.

“We have to do a better job of seeing children more quickly,” said Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees Child Protective Services. “It is unacceptable for these children to remain unseen.”

The numbers offer a snapshot into one of the biggest problems facing CPS: quickly investigating child abuse allegations and removing kids from danger before they are hurt. A 2015 investigation by the American-Statesman — Missed Signs, Fatal Consequences — found that early nearly half of the 779 children who died were already on CPS’s radar. Of those 380 fatalities, 144 families — more than a quarter — had been the subject of a CPS investigation at least 3 times.

The agency is still facing monumental challenges on all fronts. Child abuse deaths are up. Caseworker turnover is high. Tenured workers are fleeing the agency, salaries are low and a shortage of foster homes has forced CPS to house children in offices and hotels. Meanwhile, a federal judge ordered the state to overhaul its foster care system, saying it puts children in danger and violates their civil rights.

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott — who has said fixing CPS is among his top priorities — tapped new leadership to tackle the agency’s predicament. Hank Whitman, a former Texas Ranger, was named commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services. A new leader was appointed to run CPS. The state fired four out of its 10 regional directors in charge of CPS operations across the state and a fifth director retired.

“Protecting Texas’ children is a top priority for Governor Abbott and he has made it clear that the status quo is unacceptable and that additional measures must be taken to reduce and eliminate child abuse, neglect and death,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman.

Despite the increased attention to the problem, the percentage of children not seen on time statewide hasn’t improved — and locally, it got worse. In March, 32 percent of Travis County children hadn’t been seen on time. Now it’s 42 percent percent.

It’s unclear why the numbers have risen as of late, but investigators have long struggled to meet those deadlines, in large part because of turnover. In fiscal year 2016, 33 percent of child abuse investigators quit, leaving those left behind to pick up abandoned cases. Investigators can juggle as many as 50 or 60 cases at one time, making it difficult to visit children in a timely manner.

The abuse allegations — which can come from relatives, teachers, neighbors or others — are made through a state hotline and vary in severity. Some reports involve children seen with bruises or marks that raise suspicions of abuse. Others might allege that a child is being left alone too long.

Because the seriousness of the allegations vary, CPS divides its initial response into two primary categories: Priority 1 cases, when a child’s immediate safety is at risk, must be initiated within 24 hours; Priority 2 cases, which are considered less urgent, must be initiated within three days.

But just because kids can’t be found doesn’t mean investigators haven’t looked for them.

“Many families are not home, or have moved, or do not want to be found,” Crimmins said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

JUST IN: SWAT team at Pflugerville home Saturday for ‘barricaded subject’
JUST IN: SWAT team at Pflugerville home Saturday for ‘barricaded subject’

A SWAT team has been called to a home in Pflugerville on Saturday morning after a person has barricaded themselves inside, Austin police said.  Authorities said U.S. Marshals are at the home, and the person is refusing to come out. Media reports say the home is in the 14500 block of Harris Ridge Boulevard.  Police did not have further information...
NYC postal worker arrested after police find 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail
NYC postal worker arrested after police find 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail

A New York City postal worker was arrested Thursday after 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail were found in his car, apartment and locker, authorities said. Aleksey Germash, who has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 16 years, possessed undelivered mail since 2005, WPIX reported. He told investigators he held onto the mail because...
Trump rips New York Times reporter, defends Cohen
Trump rips New York Times reporter, defends Cohen

President Donald Trump came out swinging on Twitter Saturday morning, firing off three tweets attacking The New York Times and reporter Maggie Haberman. A story published Friday in the Times -- written by Haberman, Sharon LaFraniere and Danny Hakim -- suggested that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen might cooperate with federal...
FORECAST: Showers possible Saturday in Austin, some storms could be severe
FORECAST: Showers possible Saturday in Austin, some storms could be severe

Showers are possible Saturday in Austin and some storms in Central Texas could become severe, producing hail and damaging winds, the National Weather Service said. Meteorologists put rain chances in Austin at 40 percent Saturday in the day and 20 percent at night. Forecasters say some storms stretching from east of Llano to Hallettsville could...
Queen Elizabeth turns 92: 5 fun facts
Queen Elizabeth turns 92: 5 fun facts

Queen Elizabeth II turned 92 on Saturday, and after 65 years on the throne, she holds the distinction of ruling longer than any monarch in the United Kingdom’s history.  The queen actually celebrates two birthdays each year: her actual birthday, which is April 21; and one in June when she hosts a parade -- weather permitting -- called &ldquo...
More Stories