A “broken system” are the words Gov. Greg Abbott uses to describe the state of Texas Child Protective Services.
On Tuesday, Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Hank Whitman announced 10 recommendations he plans to implement to fix the system.
Whitman spoke at a Health and Human Services Hearing at the state capitol, where people crowded in the room to speak and listen.
"It wasn't me as a parent, or another parent that mistreated my son, it was a daycare facility,” said Natalie Berquist, who brought her 7-year-old son to the hearing.
After her son told her about the abuse, she tried to contact CPS several times. That was back in 2013, and she said still to this day hasn't heard back.
"It was like I never existed,” said Berquist.
It's all part of the problems DFPS Commissioner Whitman is now working to fix.
"We're working extremely hard to address those problems,” said Whitman.
In a letter to the governor, he wrote, “I see an agency desperate to do great work.”
He presented 10 proposal ideas to Gov. Abbott Tuesday aiming to overhaul CPS:
- Make sure CPS employees follow the core mission: do whatever it takes to protect Texas children from abuse and neglect. He said, “CPS case workers must have the training and resources to respond quickly and do what is necessary to protect our children.” And also points out supervisors must ensure the cases are handled correctly.
- Require CPS regional directors to re-apply for their jobs.
- Make sure the high-needs children in CPS care are taken care of, like those who have suffered trauma and mental illness, emotional problems or are medically fragile.
- Continue to implement CPS Transformation overhaul launched in 2014, which aims to improve the ability of caseworkers to protect children. Surveys show that caseworkers are frustrated by their working environment, and Whitman wants to change that.
- Partner with the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide caseworkers with information on the homes they’re visiting, like criminal backgrounds, to help in the decision-making process.
- Ensure all CPS Special Investigators receive forensic training by September 2016, and then train CPS investigative caseworkers in their regions.
- Bring the Texas faith-based community into the system. Whitman said specifically ramp up faith-based efforts in prevention, adoption and foster care areas.
- Increase the state’s investment in performance-based outcomes for foster care. Whitman cites expanding the Foster Care Redesign Program, and said the results are impressive, allowing siblings to stay together.
- Combat human trafficking and devote special services to trafficking victims
- Focus on prevention programs. Whitman said Prevention and Early Intervention Programs need to be expanded and target at-risk families.
"I'm saying it's going to make it better, nothing will ever be fixed completely,” said Whitman.
As a former police officer and Texas Ranger, one of the things Whitman recommends is partnering with the Department of Public Safety to provide case workers with criminal backgrounds for homes they're visiting.
"We're asking them to do a very difficult job and put themselves in harm, I don't want that to happen,” said Whitman.
He also suggested expanding prevention programs, teaching at-risk families how to build healthy households.
CPS Case Worker Christina Garza recently told KVUE about the dire need for foster parents.
"We have children sleeping in hotel rooms and unfortunately our CPS offices,” said Garza.
"We certainly don't want them there but they're very safe there,” said Whitman.
People like Berquist hope these recommendations will improve the system.
“Bottom line is what you say and what you do is two different things so we'll see how that's implemented and hopefully they are going to make some changes,” said Berquist.
In the letter to the governor, Whitman said he plans to offer more specific details in the coming months, as we approach the 85th legislature.