Directive issued to DFPS: Fix backlog involving at-risk children

A room full of clothing, in case the children didn't have any clothes with them after they were removed from a home. (Courtesy: DFPS)
A room full of clothing, in case the children didn't have any clothes with them after they were removed from a home. (Courtesy: DFPS)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — State leader are issuing a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) outlining steps the agency needs to take to eliminate the current backlog involving the most at-risk children in Texas.

Last week, DFPS issued records indicating children at risk for abuse are still not being checked on in a timely manner by state caseworkers. On any given day, nearly 1,000 “high priority” calls for abuse children go unanswered by Child Protective Services. 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.

On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus sent a letter to DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman directing the agency to immediately implement stop-gap measures to fix the problem. The letter states, “State investigators should be making timely contact with a child who is the subject of an allegation of abuse or neglect without fail.”

Officials acknowledge the department’s budgetary constraints as well as the shortage of CPS workers, but the letter says the agency still needs to “act now to protect our children who are in harm’s way.” DFPS officials say they’re in a $40 million budget shortfall and next session they are asking for 510 more CPS investigators.

State leaders say they are aware that the number of reports of abuse and neglect are on the rise and the agency’s current workforce can’t support all the cases. To help with the problem, state leaders say they are “confident” the Legislature in 2017 will address the agency’s budgetary needs.

The state leaders outlined the following steps DFPS must take to eliminate the current backlog ahead of the 85th legislative session:

  • Develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators, building on their law enforcement backgrounds and utilizing the safety and risk assessment tools available to find the children that the agency has been previously unable to locate.
  • Develop a plan, including a strategic hiring and training schedule, which will ensure DFPS is staffing an increased number of the necessary caseworkers to account for the increase in workload and system backlog of serving children and families.
  • Reinforce the culture of accountability at all levels of management by inspiring the DFPS workforce to rise to the challenge and embrace the commitment to the safety and risk assessment tools as an aid in their critical decision making.
  • Build upon ongoing efforts to enhance more partnerships with local faith-based communities.

The state expects a report by the end of next week on how the agency plans on addressing the problems. The letter also directed the agency to develop a plan that will find temporary housing for children who are currently sleeping in CPS offices. The letter reads, “We also will not tolerate inferior residential foster care operations.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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