Texas leaders aren’t leading on child welfare


Gov. Greg Abbott, left; Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, right; Speaker Joe Straus must confront dangers to Texas children.
Gov. Greg Abbott, left; Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, right; Speaker Joe Straus must confront dangers to Texas children. The Dallas Morning News

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus would have you believe they took bold and aggressive action on Wednesday, directing the Department of Family and Protective Services “to protect Texas children in Child Protective Services care who are in harm’s way.”

Don’t fall for it. Those are just words on a news release.

The state’s top three leaders sent a letter to DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman addressing the agency’s alarming failure to meet legal standards for checking on the welfare of thousands of children known to be in danger of abuse or neglect.

The letter says, “We must act now to protect our children who are in harm’s way.”

But it was a milquetoast approach to the current Texas child welfare crisis.

State law requires that at-risk kids be visited within 24 hours in the most serious cases and 72 hours in others. Some haven’t been seen in more than a year.

A real “act now” message would have told Whitman to use all available DFPS resources to clear the backlog of child welfare visits within days.

Instead, the three elected officials ordered preliminary action on long-term fixes:

“Develop a plan to hire and train more special investigators …”

“Develop a plan, including a strategic hiring and training schedule, which will ensure DFPS is staffing an increased number of the necessary caseworkers …”

“Reinforce the culture of accountability at all levels of management by inspiring your workforce to rise to the challenge …”

“Build upon your ongoing efforts to enhance more partnerships with local faith-based communities …”

The Big Three want Whitman to report by the end of next week on his plan for developing these plans.

This is not leadership. How many of these kids could face real harm before the end of next week?

Abbott, Patrick and Straus correctly point out that DFPS is short of staff and money to do its job, which comes from years of legislative shortsightedness.

They promise “judicious budgetary decisions” in the legislative session that begins Jan. 10. That’s an empty promise without real leadership on their part.