Capitol Hall Report – May 3, 2016

Enough is enough….

The recent brutal beating death of 4-year-old Leiliana Wright of Grand Prairie is a painful reminder of the consequences that accompany the state’s failure to protect our most vulnerable Texans: abused and neglected children. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in 2015 alone, a total of 66,721 children and teens were victims of abuse or neglect, 17,151 were removed from their homes for their own protection, and 171 children, supposedly protected by Child Protective Services (CPS), died.

Across the Nation, state run agencies are specifically tasked to protect children from dangerous living situations. In Texas, CPS which operates under the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), is the responsible agency for the protection of neglected or abused children. According to a recent DFPS news release, Texas CPS investigated more than 176,868 allegations of child abuse or neglect in 2015.

Just last week, Governor Abbott began the overhaul process for CPS, and Lt. Governor Patrick expressed his deep concern when he vowed personally “to engage the faith-based community in addressing this [child welfare] problem.” Texas House Speaker Joe Straus pledged that improving the state’s system for protecting and helping abused children would be “a top priority in next year’s legislative session” in the Texas House. I applaud Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and House Speaker Straus for their actions and sincerely hope that this issue remains a priority throughout the 85th Legislative Session.

CPS has become an institutional failure to the communities they serve and to the children they have a duty to protect. The current CPS framework is only capable of finding a small percentage of children in crisis. Inter-agency issues such as excessive caseload numbers, high employee turnover, non-performance based promotions, and a general lack in financial management are key problems that must be corrected. Last year, through the sunsets process, the Legislature passed a number of reforms for the Department of Family and Protective Services. In addition to these reforms, the legislature increased funding for CPS by $231 million dollars.

In this next session, the legislature must do more than just throw money at this issue and hope that the systemic problems that continue to plague CPS will eventually dissolve. Instead, the legislature must demand a deeper evaluation of the CPS methodology and a complete restructuring of the organization. We must overhaul and restructure the very framework to intelligently address the priorities and burdens that caseworkers face on a daily bases. In addition, we are dutifully bound to guarantee that DFPS operates in line with lawful investigation practices. This includes an adherence to the 4th and 14th amendments, and the protections of constitutional rights and parental authority. We must address these issues, while also ensuring that our limited tax dollars are focused on situations of true abuse, not situations of legitimate parental decisions with which the personnel in DFPS happens to disagree.

On April 11, Governor Abbott stated, “The status quo at CPS is unacceptable.” I fully support the Governor’s assessment of this situation and believe it is time the Texas Legislature ensures the Children of Texas are properly protected.