If as a population we are “pro-life” in principle, we must demand that protecting the lives of innocent children continue after they’re brought into this world. Certainly, state leaders should demonstrate as much commitment and passion in overhauling Texas Child Protective Services as they did in passing a statewide anti-abortion law in 2013. Young lives hang in the balance — lives no less important because they are beyond the womb.
We were heartened by last week’s joint letter by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus demanding action from the Department of Family and Protective Services on a number of fronts. Their concerns come amid damning statistics that show many children deemed at risk for physical or sexual abuse can go for months without being checked on by Child Protective Services investigators. At least 1,800 children weren’t seen promptly even after reports of such abuse had been received.
The Austin American-Statesman, which has reported extensively on systemic CPS failures, last month reported that more than 14,000 children statewide — one third of those with open CPS cases — “had not been seen by child-abuse investigators between 24 and 72 hours after a report of abuse, the state-mandated time frame in which caseworkers must see children.” In short, state workers charged with protecting imperiled children are not always riding to the rescue — not in time, anyway. The number of child-abuse deaths has risen as a result.
All this figures into the broader picture of a demoralized agency in chaos, replete with numerous cases of child-abuse allegations going unaddressed; a lack of suitable foster-care homes available; crushing caseloads that make smart investigation of individual incidents less likely; worker burnout; high personnel turnover; and what department officials say is a $40 million budget shortfall — and at a time when state leaders want agencies to prune budgets.
Abbott, Patrick and Straus demand recently appointed department Commissioner Hank Whitman address a lengthy list of at-risk children awaiting action by CPS; hire and train caseworkers more promptly; and reduce telling incidents of at-risk children sleeping in CPS offices. Fair enough. But in the end, this agency won’t be fixed without ensuring caseworkers and investigators have the right credentials and time to look into cases with complicated, sometimes elusive backgrounds and that they be paid better for their work. This all requires money.
Rescuing at-risk kids in Texas isn’t a politically correct cause, but it sure ought to be. State leaders shouldn’t let this societal failing stop them from pressing overdue reforms and ensuring sufficient investment in CPS in the 2017 legislative session. Only then can we expect life-saving dividends protecting some of our state’s most vulnerable.