AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — Newly released records show that Texas child welfare investigators are still not promptly checking on thousands of kids at risk for abuse as the state grapples with a shortage of caseworkers.
The data released Tuesday by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is more evidence of a troubled system that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to overhaul. He appointed new leadership in April but scores of at-risk children are still going unseen.
In Travis County, DFPS data shows between July and September the percentage of cases where a CPS investigator never shows up and makes contact with the at-risk child is on the rise. In July, 6.5 percent of Priority 1 cases (the most urgent involving children) were not met with an investigator. By early September, the number rose to 8.2 percent.
Just last month, Colton Turner would’ve turned five.
“It’s hard, very hard. Hard for my family that he didn’t get that first day of school,” his great aunt Diane Battles told KXAN.She says CPS didn’t do their job; they had no idea where he was until he was found in a shallow grave.
“I feel like Colton would still be here if they would have just acted, if they would have just searched and hunted high and low for him,” said Battles.
But new documents from the Department of Family and Protective Services show on any given day, nearly a thousand “high priority” calls for abuse go unanswered by CPS. Another 1,800 kids were seen too late according to state law. On average more than 11 high priority calls in Travis County alone go un-answered.
“I’d like to say I was surprised by this, it’s not terribly surprising,” said Kate Murphy from Texans Care for Children.
She says it is a simple but massive problem. Child advocates say there are too many at risk children in Texas and not enough case workers or CPS investigators
“What’s happening now is that it’s just compounding and we’re finally seeing the serious ramifications,” said Murphy.
DFPS officials say they’re in a $40 million dollar budget shortfall and next session. They are asking for 510 more CPS investigators.
Texas struggles to retain low-paid caseworkers and had a turnover rate of 33 percent last year. Regardless of the turnover situation, a spokesperson for DFPS says the agency must focus on getting more workers in the field.
“Governor Abbott has made it crystal clear that CPS must be held accountable for its performance, or lack of performance. Kids must be seen and their safety must be ensured – and resistance to system improvements will not be tolerated,” explained DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins in a statement.
In April, KXAN Investigator Robert Maxwell reported on the number of “delinquent cases” in Travis and Williamson counties. Cases are classified as a delinquent when no one from the state has visited a child where neglect or abuse is suspected within 60 days.
The death of Cedar Park toddler Colton Turner in the summer of 2014 prompted Texas Child Protective Services to create and start using new step-by-step guides and checklists to assess safety and risk for vulnerable children. Both an internal CPS departmental audit and state-directed Sunset Review Reports had recommended changes to limit CPS investigator burn-out and turnover.