AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is still failing to check on thousands of children who are the highest risk for abuse or neglect in the latest sign of trouble for an understaffed child protection agency that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to overhaul, according to state data released Tuesday.
On any given day alone around big cities such as Houston and Dallas, more than 200 children who are allegedly maltreated never get a face-to-face visit by a welfare investigator within 24 hours as the state requires, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The agency has struggled to retain low-paid caseworkers, whose starting salaries are about $37,000 annually, and the turnover rate last year was about 33 percent, agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.
Abbott appointed new leadership at the agency in April, but the new data showing how often Texas caseworkers made required checks between March and September reveal scores of at-risk children still go unseen. On Sept. 12, more than 900 children around Texas whom the state defines as being in situations that “could result in death or serious harm” had not received a visit.
Thousands of children were also going unseen in March and April, according to figures previously obtained by The Dallas Morning News. Asked about signs of progress, Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement that the governor has made clear that the status quo is unacceptable.
“The Governor will continue to work aggressively with the legislature and DFPS to overhaul the current system and continue working toward his stated goal of no more child deaths in Texas,” Wittman wrote in an email.
Crimmins said the agency has asked lawmakers to fund more than 500 additional investigative caseworkers. He also said the data does not reflect unsuccessful contacts with children either because families aren’t home, have moved “or do not want to be found.” He said those cases can make a difference of up to 3 percent in the data.
Welfare visits are not the only troubled part of the state’s family protection agency. Last year, a federal judge ruled that Texas’ foster care system was unconstitutionally broken and ordered an independent overhaul.
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