Backlog of CPS cases pile up in Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As CPS admits its faults in the Colton Turner case, further digging revealed an even bigger problem.

A report out Thursday indicates there are currently 450 children in Travis County right now whose abuse and neglect allegations were not looked into for more than two months. To put the backlog of cases in context, 87 intake workers in Travis County each dealt with more than 100 cases from more than 9,300 received in 2013, state records show. Due to the current backlog, one in three cases is not even investigated.

So what happens now? The current backlog in Travis County is down from 2,000 in 2012. Still, CPS knew the case backlog was putting the county’s children at risk a month before Turner’s body was found.

On Aug. 4, three highly trained caseworkers and a supervisor were parachuted in to tackle those delinquent and difficult cases. And more are coming. They are known as Master Investigators.

In an emergency, it’s all hands on deck. By Monday, to further tackle the weighty backlog of cases, CPS will have brought in more than a dozen Master Investigators to Travis County. The full-time roving caseworkers are experienced in dealing with kids in crisis.

Last year, CPS investigated 137 child deaths statewide involving abuse and neglect. Five of those were in Travis County, second in number only to Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

“It’s a puzzle to us. We don’t really know,” CPS spokesperson Patrick Crimmins said of the high caseload in Travis County. “There are some hotspots around the state.”

But are three terminations enough to nip this problem the bud?

“It’s a start,” Crimmins said. “Again, if you read the report you’ll see how in all four investigations regarding Colton Turner there were serious policy violations and there were serious mistakes in judgment.”

CPS leaders are using Turner’s death as a springboard for more change. Other than firing investigators and scouring the case backlog, Thursday’s review offers the following promises:

  • Starting mid-October, CPS investigators will better track face-to-face visits with children.
  • They’ve recently started targeted reviews of open investigations, focusing on children under five who haven’t met with CPS case workers.
  • And soon, there will be reviews of recently closed cases, some of which may extend beyond Travis County depending on what is found.

CPS internally is also reviewing its policies on what happens when a new abuse complaint comes in for a family where there is already an open investigation, and how to merge those files.
They’ll look at how to merge those files.

Under the microscope

In June, an outside consultant recommended caseworkers do a safety assessment within 24 hours of meeting a possible abuse victim. Right now, it’s seven days.

There is also a plan to revise that Safety Assessment program, but that won’t begin until January.

Who’s in charge

Former Judge John Specia serves as the Commissioner of The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He was one of the state’s first child welfare attorneys.

Lisa Black became the Assistant Commissioner for Child Protective Services in January. She’s spent years with the agency, running the region around the Dallas-Fort Worth area before taking on the statewide role.

Here in Central Texas, Shelia Brown is the Regional Director of CPS. Since 2007, She has run the day-to-day operations for Region 7, which includes Austin.

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