Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive from his office Wenesday, calling for an elimination of the backlog of child abuse and neglect cases in Texas. The directive came in a letter issued by Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, calling for several changes to better protect children in Texas.

The letter explained that “the backlog of children not seen within the statutory guidelines remains nearly unchanged since the spring.” It calls for a plan to train and hire more investigators, adjustments to handle an increased case load for the department, building on efforts to partner with faith based communities, and reinfocring ” the culture of accountability at all levels of managment.”

This effort comes in the middle of an overhaul of the department which has come under fire for several things including budget deficits and a shortage of placements for foster children. This specific action aims at improving the investigations and interventions that get kids the help they need.

State Representative John Frullo who represents District 84  explained that he’s well aware of the need to change this state agency. He’s worked with committees on trying to reshape the department during previous sessions.  He explained that he served on a senate committee addressing these issues during a previous sessions.

“The bad news is that [the backlog] is happening and the good news is there’s a heightened priority for fixing it and I think there’s a will in the Texas house to address that and to find funding, so at the end of the day its gonna take more case workers, more people to be able to handle this,” explained State Representative John Frullo , who represents District 84. Frullo believes that reshaping DFPS will be a major priority during the next leglistlative session.

“We’ve had a change, the commissioner [for DFPS] now is Commissioner Hank Whitman, he has a DPS background, is a criminal investigator so I think that we’re gonna see the culture of that organization change,” Frullo said of the change in leadership at DFPS which happened this spring

Frullo explained that it’s clear: the state just doesn’t enough homes to place children in. 

Frullo added that regionally, the Lubbock area struggles to meet the needs of the abused or negelcted children who live  there.

“We have more of a problem in Lubbock than a lot of other areas in the state and unfortunately it takes more money, more people, and the type of people who want to work to fix this problem, both from an agency standpoint and for foster care employees,” Frullo said. 

The Children’s Advocacy Center has had a taste of the high volume of cases that CPS in Texas is struggling to attend to. After an initiative issued in fall of 205, the Children’s Advocacy Center of the South Plains and advocacy centers around the state were allowed to review CPS intake forms. CAC on the South Plains reads through every intake form in Lubbock County and the surrounding counties, looking for children who may need to come in for a screening interview.

Derek Danner, the interim executive director for the Children’s Advocacy Center for the South Plains explained that in Lubbock County from September 1st 2015, to August 31st 2016 there were 4,023 intakes for CPS in Lubbock County alone.  

“As you can see just from the numbers we were talking about here, that’s on a large scale for the big state of Texas you need probably more investigators than they probably have, they probably experience a large turnover rate, some people fear CPS more than they fear law enforcement,” he said. 

Danner said that the state’s efforts to expedite intervention during cases of abuse and neglect should help get children out of damaging situations faster.

“The sooner you can respond to a report of abuse or neglect and get some intervention, that’s going to start the healing process earlier,” he said. 

Danner encourages the public to help get Texas children assistance faster: he explained that the public needs to file reports if they see criminal activity or mistreatment.  He encourages filing reports with both CPS and law enforcement to get that child help as quickly as possible

According to statistics provided by DFPS, last year in Lubbock county there were 1,138 confirmed cases of child abuse and  neglect our to the 74, 078 children under the age of 17 who DFPS had on record last year.

“One child abused, is one too many.  Why were there 1,138 child abuse victims in Lubbock County last year? You have to look at the root causes,” said DFPS spokesperson Paul Zimmerman in  a statement. ” Child abuse/neglect is a public health issue.  Stressors in the home such as poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, parents who were abused when they were children – these are all things that can lead to abuse/neglect.

Zimmerman explained that one of the new focuses in this overhaul of Child Protective Services is increasing “face to face” contact with alleged victims, meaning time when case workers or investigators meet directly with alleged victims.

Zimmerman explained that in Lubbock County in July, 79% of the reports with children who appear to face immediate risk in the Panhandle region were initiated on time.

In August, he said,  89% of all top priority cases were initiated on time.

In both July and August 96 percent of those top priority cases, face-to face contact was made

“Governor Abbott has made it crystal clear that CPS must be held accountable for its performance, or lack of performance. Kids must be seen and their safety must be ensured – and resistance to system improvements will not be tolerated,” Zimmerman said of the efforts to improve face to face contact.