AUSTIN (AP) – Texas is not reporting hundreds of child deaths related to abuse and neglect, and more than 50 child welfare workers in recent years have been caught lying to prosecutors or engaged in other case misconduct, according to a newspaper investigation published Sunday.
Lawmakers are calling for answers ahead of a new legislative session that begins Tuesday under Gov.-elect Greg Abbott. Findings from a six-month investigation by the Austin American-Statesman are likely to put the state’s Department of Family Services under more scrutiny.
Between 2010 and 2014, the state did not publicly report 655 child abuse fatalities because caseworkers decided that mistreatment was not directly responsible for those deaths, the newspaper found (http://bit.ly/14Jrbp5). Nearly half of the children who died came from families that had been investigated by the state multiple times.
Advocates say the state is intentionally suppressing the number of child abuse deaths to minimize culpability. Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins says the agency isn’t trying to hide anything and has followed state and federal laws.
“I’m speechless,” Democratic state Sen. Carlos Uresti said. “I want to know who these kids are. Every one of these kids has a name and has a story and would have had a life ahead of them.”
Uresti authored a 2009 law that requires Family and Protective Services to provide the public with detailed reports when caseworkers rule that maltreatment directly killed a child. But that does not include cases in which abuse was found to be present but did not directly contribute to the death.
It is not always clear why seemingly comparable deaths end up on different lists. For example, Crimmins said that one type of case that might not be included in the public fatality count is when a child riding a four-wheeler is killed. The failure to supervise the child would not necessarily be considered to have been directly connected to the death, he said.
But the newspaper found three such fatalities in which a family member was blamed and landed on the publicly disclosed list.
State and court documents also reveal that since 2009, dozens of state caseworkers have been caught lying to prosecutors, ignoring court orders, falsifying state records or obstructing law enforcement. At least four former state Child Protective Services employees are facing criminal charges for their alleged misconduct.
State officials insist those cases are rare: Employees accused of misconduct found by the newspaper represent a fraction of the 3,400 investigators and foster care workers in the agency. But the agency cannot definitively say how often it happens since it does not comprehensively track the number of people who were fired for such offenses.