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TX: 84th Legislative Session Has Work To Do For Child Protection Transparency

Texas made 2014 an unprecedented year in child protection transparency. Sadly, it took 10 children dying in foster care during  FY2013 to trigger a response from the Legislature.

Early in the year, interim charges went out ordering the situation be reviewed. There were many instances throughout the year in which Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia spoke and presented testimony. By adding the public testimony, we developed a good foundation of discernment leading into the 84th legislative session.

On Feb. 20, 2014, the Senate Health and Human Services committee met to discuss the foster fatalities. Commissioner Specia presented a very good power point presentation  on the fatalities and the modernization of the IMPACT computer system. The  modernization is expected to add more business sense and predictive analytics to the department’s data processing system.

One thing was quite clear: The Legislature provided more funding last session and the agency is still working on how to best use those funds. Therefore, more funding is not immediately necessary.

The charge for the House Human Services hearing on April 15, 2014 was directed toward foster care redesign. Public testimony presented a general consensus toward placing that project on hold. One cannot think about foster care redesign without thinking about the roll-out on March 21, 2012 when former Commissioner Howard Baldwin was chastised by state Sen. Robert Nichols referred to the presentation as “CPS 101 or 201.”

Commissioner Baldwin resigned during the controversy of the 2012 Klapheke case which resulted in four DFPS caseworkers being placed on administrative leave. One of which, former program director Bit Whitaker, was recently arrested for records tampering in connection to that case. Former Judge John J. Specia was named as a replacement starting Dec. 1, 2012.

May 15, 2014 brought us a hearing by the Joint Committee on human trafficking. We heard a presentation by Commissioner Specia who was joined by Angela Goodwin (Head of DFPS Investigations). Between the two, we gained good insight into human trafficking from the DFPS point of view.

The commissioner presented a definition for human trafficking as “profiting from the exploitation of another human being.” Some feel that because Social Security Title IV funding is used to pay for foster care, coupled with the failure to investigate abuse within the system, has in itself become a form of human trafficking. This is something Texas needs to take a very serious look at.

May also brought the appointment of members to the Select Committee on Child Protection by Speaker Joe Straus. We also received the staff report from the Sunset Commission on the DFPS review in preparation for the June hearings. The Select Committee would begin it’s hearings in July.

The first round of testimony for the 2014-2015 Sunset review cycle was June 24-25, 2014. DFPS presented its formal response to the staff report on June 11, 2014. On June 24 the state and its stakeholders presented their testimony. Then, on June 25, public testimony was heard and presented insights into many of the problems with both Child and Adult Protective Services.

The Cook family presented testimony early in the day that set the stage for other concerns about child abuse within foster care.  After only a few more testimonies, Rep. Harold Dutton raised the question, “Who is protecting our children from Child Protective Services?” Throughout the day there was much concern over the abuse of children within foster care and the accountability of caseworkers. There was also more testimony questioning the effectiveness of the foster care redesign.

July 1, 2014 saw the first hearing of the Select Committee on Child Protection which provided a good overview of long term foster care but not Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC). TMC is the 12-18 month term from removal until final orders. Most reunification cases fall in the 8-14 month range, so it would have been nice to gain more insight into this very important stage of service. The day closed with another testimony by the Cook Family met with heavy questioning by the committee. (Witness List and handouts)

The second Select Committee hearing on July 24, 2014 heard testimony from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) along with former foster youth. We also heard from the TJJD independent Ombudsman, Debbie Unruh. Most felt that the general consensus of the day was, “Children who do wrong have more rights than those who are victims of wrong doing.” A very disturbing understanding of the day.(Witness List and handouts)

In August, we had the first Sunset Commission decisions hearing which included those for DFPS. While there appears to be a number of positive changes for DFPS, the general public felt they did not go far enough. These decisions can be reviewed in the Staff Report with Decisions.

September brought us two more Select Committee hearings. At the September 10, 2014 hearing Chairwoman Dawanna Dukes ranted about veterans and put a very negative twist on the  hearing. (Witness list and handouts)

The announcement that the September 30, 2014 hearing would be the last left followers feeling empty and forgotten. This hearing was chaired by Rep. Cindy Burkett. While  good information was presented via the witnesses and handouts, the totality of how the Select committee hearings were micro managed with too much legislative interference were revealed by the Sunset Commission

On Oct. 9, DFPS put the Office of Consumer Affairs handbook online. Watchdog Wire published an article on the results. DFPS also released their transformation report on Oct. 20 which created a number of concerns over the statutes they would like repealed or amended.

The Sunset Commission recommendations hearings, which included the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), were held November 12-13, 2014 and revealed a plan to convert it into a “Mega-agency.”

Invited testimony on Nov. 12, 2014 included HHSC Inspector General Doug Wilson who was heavily drilled over OIG investigations of Medicaid fraud. It did not touch on the investigation of its internal agencies such as DFPS. Public testimony was heard on Nov. 13 showing much concern over the intent to consolidate the various management councils into the mega executive council.

On Nov. 17, 2014 former child death investigator Jose “Joe” Carrizal, Jr. put the crowning star on top of the transparency tree by filing a whistle-blower lawsuit against HHSC. We can thank an article and report by Austin KXAN for the link to lawsuit.

Things we have not heard enough about this year are DFPS efforts toward reunification services, or the new “Alternative Response” stage of service created by SB-423. Both of these are very important subjects and have been strangely missing from all state testimony this year.

Add this to all the concerns over accountability, and we concerned Texans have our work cut out for us in the 84th legislative session.

Jim Black

Jim Black is the founder of Angel Eyes over Texas. Jim is a former Manufacturing Engineer turned CPS Watchdog. Jim spent more than 32 years studying manufacturing companies, their procedures and the proper application of their resources. Now those same skills are applied toward analyzing Texas DFPS and it's functions; breaking down the mechanics of how the agency fails to follow the policies, statutes and rules set forth by the State of Texas. Jim tracks all changes to the CPS Handbook on www.aeovrt.org. Jim also provides defense attorneys with handbook research.

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Courts & Law, Government Transparency, Must Read, News, Opinion, Policy, Politics, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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