DFPS commissioner: ‘We failed Colton Turner’

Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Commissioner John J. Specia Jr.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The top public servant responsible for the safety of Texas children at risk for abuse and neglect admits the Texas Department of Family Protective Services failed 2-year-old Colton Turner. The candid admission comes days after a scathing internal review into how Child Protective Services handled abuse complaints leading up to the boy’s death. It resulted in the firing of three CPS workers, including a program director.

Colton’s tiny body was recovered from a shallow grave in Southeast Austin on Sept. 12, months after CPS received an abuse complaint in mid-June. No one from CPS responded until Aug. 28, when yet another allegation of abuse came in, the review revealed.

“We should have done our job. We should have seen Colton Turner within appropriate time frames and we didn’t,” said DFPS Commissioner John Specia Jr. who has led the agency since December 2012. This longtime family court judge and child welfare advocate agrees DFPS needs fixing, and fast.

“My vision for this agency is that we do what we’re supposed to do. We protect the unprotected,” he said.

Caseload backlogs suggest that’s not always happening in Travis and Williamson Counties. Colton Turner’s case in Cedar Park was one case of reported abuse in 2014 that staff admit they badly bungled over several months.

“I don’t think I can give you an answer on whether Colton would be alive or not alive (if CPS had acted sooner). I don’t know what happened to Colton. But whatever happened to Colton happened by his mother (Meagan Work) and her paramour (boyfriend Michael Turner, Colton’s namesake)…(By not following up promptly) we failed Colton Turner,” Specia told KXAN.

The three CPS staff who lost their jobs included a Travis County supervisor and program director. Sources inside CPS say the purge at the regional level doesn’t fix ongoing agency management problems. A recent staff survey identified the sources of higher than expected turnover as: overwork, lack of support and low pay. Those issues as they relate to management practices are also ones the Texas Health and Human Services Commission Office of Inspector General is now looking at. Its recommendations could come later this fall. It is unknown if those will include organizational changes such as further staff discipline or termination.

“I will take whatever action is appropriate based on the information I get,” Judge Specia said acknowledging an agencywide shake-up is possible..

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